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Pistolero by SandySha

Word Count 52,275

*The usual disclaimers. They aren’t mine, sure wish they were.
* A/R -My Johnny is 18 and Scott is 22.
* Warning, if you don’t like to see Johnny larger than life, then step away now.
* A big thanks to Alice Marie and Susan for helping with the Beta.
Note: When your Muse decides to take a vacation, your dialogue suffers.  My apologies in advance.


1st in the Pistolero Series


The wind seemed to be carrying his name. 

Taking off his hat, he tipped his head up to the sun and frowned when there was no warmth.  A chill suddenly ran through him.

Looking down, he saw that the wind was stirring the dust at his feet.  A dusty haze started to fill the air around him.


He jerked and looked around.  There it was again.  The name was calling to him, a single word that was nothing more than a whisper through the trees.


He looked down the street and saw the source of the sound. 

He began to walk.  The ringing sound of his spurs filled the air.   Reaching the middle of the street, he turned and looked at the man standing in front of him. 

Blinking his eyes, he tried to focus on the blurry face twenty feet away.  Dust was now swirling all around him.  He blinked several more times, but the face still wasn’t clear. 

He saw the other man draw his gun and fire.  Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wondered why he hadn’t done the same.   He stopped trying to see the blurry face and concentrated on the object spinning toward him. 

As if in slow motion, it was spinning, spinning, coming closer and closer.  He jerked back as the bullet hit, and he felt himself falling….


Johnny jerked upright in bed, sweat dripping from his face and chest.

Damn. A bad dream.  Another bad dream.”

He seemed to be having a lot of those lately.  At least, he wasn’t waking up screaming like he did with the nightmares that often plagued him.  

This was the fourth night in a row he had suffered through the series of dreams.  Each dream more intense and realistic than the one before it. 

The dreams were always the same.  He was back in the dusty border towns.  Drifting from one to another.  In each, a faceless stranger would call him out.


The name echoed through his dreams.

Each time Johnny’s gun blazed and the man fell.   The towns seemed to blur together.  Faceless men fell under Madrid’s gun, one after the other. 

He woke each night, just as the last man fired.

In the dream, Johnny could see the bullet coming toward him in slow motion.  He always woke up just as the bullet hit and he started falling to the ground.

Sitting up, he pushed back the sweat-soaked sheet.  He rubbed his face and ran his fingers through his damp hair.

“Get a grip on yourself, Madrid,” he said out loud.  

Madrid.  He hadn’t called himself Madrid for a while now.  It had been four months since Day Pardee’s bullet burned a hole his back.  Four months since he’d paid the price for one-third of the ranch. 

During that time, he had tried hard to become Johnny Lancer, rancher, instead of Johnny Madrid, gunfighter.   Distinguishing the difference between the two was hard.  Johnny knew, in reality, there was no difference.  Whatever name he was using, he was still Madrid and always would be.

He swung his legs off the side of the bed and sat for a few minutes.  He knew there was no use in trying to go back to sleep.  He didn’t mind getting up early, but this was ridiculous.

Standing, a cold shiver ran through him.

‘Gotta’ get a grip.’

After completing his morning routine, Johnny sat next to the window and looked out over the ranch.  The night sky shades of black and deep purple were just giving way to pink in the east. 

The morning breeze caused the curtains on his window to bellow inward.

He loved the early morning hours before the noise of ranch life took over the day.  He took a deep breath.  The smells of the ranch were sometimes overpowering; the aroma of fresh grass with a hint of roses from the garden behind the house, and the ever-present odor of horses and cattle.

Johnny closed his eyes and smiled.  All the smells of home.  Yes, this was home.  The first real home he could ever remember.

As he stood, a chill ran up his spine.  Wrapping his arms around his chest, Johnny rubbed his bare arms.  His gut told him something wasn’t right.  It was a familiar feeling that had served him well over the many years of being a professional gunfighter, a pistolero.

He now had a family; a father, brother, and sister who were always saying he wasn’t alone anymore.  They were always saying they were there to watch out for him.

Even so, old habits were hard to break.  Johnny knew he still had to watch his own back.  He always slept with his spare gun under his pillow.  When he did sleep, it was always with one ear open.  He knew the sounds of the house now, every sound.  He even knew the footsteps of everyone in the house.

He looked out the window again.  He liked this room and the window.   From this vantage point, he could see everything, including the front of the house, the yard, corral, and the mountains far beyond the Lancer arch. 

Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he turned back to the bed and took the gun from under his pillow, placing it in the dresser drawer.  It wouldn’t do to have Teresa or Maria find the gun while they were cleaning.

Johnny started to dress.   During the last few weeks, he’d worn simple work pants and shirts.  The daily clothes were a far cry from the flashy dress of the man he once was.

Out of necessity, he also wore cut off long johns.  Until four months ago, he’d worn nothing under his pants.  However, he learned early on that Teresa always seemed to rush into his room unannounced as he was getting dressed.  In those early days, she had barged in more than once and found him buck-naked.

Today, he absentmindedly pulled on his leather calzoneras with silver conchos running down both legs. 

Opening a drawer, he looked at his shirts.  He still didn’t have many clothes.  He’d traveled light for so long that he just couldn’t see having lots of things, in case he had to move on quickly.   In the drawer, he found the blue-flowered shirt he wore on most days, two white ones with black buttons, and two green work shirts.

His eyes fell on the red, now faded to pink shirt with the embroidery on it.  He had to admit that this was his favorite.  It was his trade-mark shirt.  The shirt that for years distinguished him from the other gunhawks in the trade.  The trouble was, he only had the one shirt and wore it sparingly.

‘Wonder if Teresa would make me another shirt?’

Reaching for one of the green work shirts, another shiver ran through him.  He looked back toward the window.  His hand reached out and settled on the pink shirt.  Maybe he needed to feel a little like Madrid today.     

In the last few months, he’d only worn a plain black belt to hold up his pants.  Today he reached for the silver concho belt.   He also put on his silver spurs instead of a worn pair of work spurs.

Before heading down to eat, he picked up his bolero jacket and put it on.  Looking at himself in the mirror, he smiled.  Maybe he needed to feel a lot like Madrid today.  


Stepping out into the hall, Johnny closed his door and listened at his brother’s door.  He heard Scott moving around his room.  He stopped briefly at the door and smiled.  He’d formed a morning routine of barging into Scott’s room.  He had his hand on the doorknob but hesitated.  For some reason, he didn’t feel like seeing his brother at that moment.

He took the back stairs down to the kitchen, where he found a plate of hot biscuits on the stove.  He took one of the biscuits and a cup of coffee from the kitchen and went into the Dining Room. 

Taking a bite, he closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of the house.   He could hear Maria in the kitchen and Teresa in her room.  Scott’s door opened and then closed.  He tried listening for Murdoch and couldn’t hear him.

Finishing the biscuit, he took the coffee cup with him and stood to look out the French doors.  The sky was turning vivid blue.

‘It’s gonna be a real nice day.’  

Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw Scott coming down the main stairs. 

“It is about time.  Thought you were going to spend all morning up there.”

“No, little brother, just making sure I look my best.” Scott smiled as he headed for the kitchen.  “I half expected to see you come in to help me dress,” Scott’s voice sounding a little disappointed that Johnny hadn’t visited him that morning.

Scott took a few steps and stopped before realizing what Johnny was wearing.

“A bit overdressed for moving cattle, aren’t you?”

“Feels comfortable.” Johnny shrugged and turned back to the doors. “Murdoch up?”

“I certainly am,” a loud voice sounded from behind him.  “Good morning, son.” Murdoch moved down the stairs and into the Dining Room.

“Morning,” Johnny answered with a weak smile. For some reason, he couldn’t shake the feeling he’d experienced in his room.

Johnny flinched at the sound of the grandfather clock striking 6:00.

“I think I’m gonna go on out,” Johnny said, looking out the French doors.

Scott sat down at the table and poured himself a cup of coffee.

“You want something to eat?”

“No, I’m fine.  Had a biscuit.” Johnny felt a flutter in his stomach.  Still looking out the doors, he said, “Not real hungry this morning.”

“You really should eat more,” Scott laughed, reaching for a second biscuit.  “Don’t blame me if you’re starving before lunch.”

“I’ll see you out there.” Johnny smiled, setting his cup down on the edge of the table.       

“We’ll be there shortly.”  Murdoch glanced up at his youngest while pouring his coffee.

Johnny moved to the front door and took his rig from the rack.  Buckling it on, he let it settle on his hips.  Sucking in his gut, he snugged the belt once more.  Out of habit, he let his right-hand fall to his side and touched the butt of the Colt.  He lifted the gun from the holster, checked the cylinder to see that it was fully loaded and slipped it back into place.

Taking his hat from the rake, he placed it on his head and turned to go out the front door.  He hesitated for a second with his hand on the doorknob and took a breath.

‘This is ridiculous.’

Opening the door, he stepped outside.


Stopping on the veranda, Johnny looked out over the yard.  He could see the men starting to exit the bunkhouses.  Smiling, he saw Cipriano, the ranch Segundo, beginning to gather the hands near the edge of the corral. 

He’d found out, shortly after arriving at Lancer, that Cipriano was his mother’s uncle, thus making the Segundo his great uncle.  Cipriano never pressured him into talking about his mother, and he still wasn’t prepared to discuss her.  He knew someday he would be ready and his Tio would be there to talk to him.

Slowly, he walked toward the corral and the gathering men.  They had 60 men on the payroll now.  It was a far cry from the 150 vaqueros and ranch hands Lancer employed before Pardee’s reign of terror.  Still, it was a lot more than the 18 men who had stood up against Day and his raiders. 

Murdoch talked about hiring more men but, during Pardee’s raids, the ranch lost too many cattle and horses.  Financially, they needed time to recover.   

Stopping mid-way between the house and the corral, Johnny turned to glance back. Murdoch and Scott still hadn’t come out.  He put both his hands in his belt, lowered his head and continued to the corral.

Frank walked up to him, smiling.  “Hey Johnny, you gonna go into town tonight?”

Johnny nodded with a smile.  It was Saturday, and he was looking forward to playing poker and relaxing… among other things.

“Yeah, thought I might.  You wanta’ play tonight, Frank?  I could use some extra cash.”

Walt walked over to listen to the two men talking and hearing the word “poker” decided to join in the conversation.  Most of the hands found Johnny easy to talk too and felt comfortable around him.  

The men were still trying to find their way with Scott.  His eastern accent and manners made it hard for them to accept him at first.  Slowly, with Johnny’s help, the oldest son was starting to fit into ranch life and earn the trust of the men.

Johnny turned his back to the yard, putting both hands on the top rail of the corral.  He leaned forward as he spoke to Walt and Frank.  Absentmindedly, he reached down and picked up a piece of straw and put it in his mouth.

The voices of the men around the yard were growing louder as they talked and laughed, waiting for Murdoch to arrive and give the morning orders.


Cipriano was the first to see the three riders coming under the Lancer arch.  He watched as they slowly moved toward the yard.

Johnny sensed the riders as they entered the yard but hadn’t turned to face them. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up.  He glanced over his shoulder and knew the three men spelled trouble.

Taking his hands off the corral fence, Johnny lowered his head and pulled his hat down over his eyes.  Frank, who was talking to him, saw the gesture and tilted his head, questioning the movement.  He started to say something when Johnny spoke up. 

“Gonna go get Barranca saddled.”

Johnny quietly moved away with his head still lowered.  He walked around the corral into the barn.

Cipriano waited until the riders were in the yard before walking out to meet them.

“May I help you, Senores?” the Segundo asked as the riders came to a stop.  Cipriano watched the middle rider looking out over the men who had gathered.  He could tell the man was looking for someone.

“You sure can,” the rider replied, with a slight drawl.   “Lookin’ for a half-breed gunhawk by the name of Madrid, Johnny Madrid.  Heard he worked here.”

A sudden and total silence fell over the men in the yard.  Older hands started moving away.  Newer hands seemed to stand where they were, looking at the riders, wondering what was going on. 

Cipriano turned to look at the men around him.  He had seen Johnny earlier, but he was not there now.

“Senor, you will wait here.  I will get el Patron.  You will speak to him.”

Cipriano turned to Jose and whispered something to him.

Jose nodded his head before starting to run toward the house.  He skidded to a stop at the front door and pushed it open to find Murdoch and Scott standing just inside. 

“Patron, Senor Scott, there are pistoleros near the corral.  They have come for Juanito.” 

Scott grabbed his hat and gun belt before stepping out the door.  He didn’t bother looking back as he knew Murdoch was right behind him.   It was at the edge of the veranda that he stopped to put on his gun belt.  Looking toward the corral, he could see the three men on horseback.  The ranch hands stood to one side of the corral.  There was no sign of his brother.

Scott felt Murdoch, and Jose move to his side.

Murdoch turned to Jose.

“Jose, quietly get a horse and go into town.  Get the sheriff and tell him what’s going on.”  As Jose turned to walk away, Murdoch took hold of his arm. “Jose, you had better bring Sam back with you, too.” 

Jose nodded and hurried away.

Scott looked at his father.  “You think we’re going to need Sam?” the concern in his voice was evident.   The look on his father’s face was one of dread.  Yes, he knew that his brother was a magnet for trouble and that Sam would most probably be needed today.

“Probably not, but…,” Murdoch answered, letting his voice trail off.  He dropped his head.  He hated to admit it, but this was one of the many scenarios that he had let run through his mind over the months since his son had been home.


Murdoch and Scott made their way across the yard.  They moved to the front of the men standing near the corral. The entire time they both scanned the yard and corral area for Johnny.  He wasn’t there. 

Murdoch stopped in front of the riders and straightened to every inch of his six-foot-five-inch height before speaking.  “I’m Murdoch Lancer,” he announced.  “What do you want here?”

The rider in the middle straightened in the saddle before speaking.

“We’re looking for a hired gun,” he answered, with a distinctive drawl.  “A half-breed by the name of Johnny Madrid.  Heard he’d hired on here.”

Murdoch grimaced at the use of the term half-breed.

“I’m not sure where my son is,” Murdoch answered, “and his name is Lancer now, not Madrid.”

“Your son?”  The man raised an eyebrow.  “Didn’t know Madrid had a father.”   He looked at the men that rode with him.  All three laughed.  “Don’t matter whether he goes by Lancer or Madrid; I still want to see him.”

“Why?” Murdoch questioned, looking at the faces of all three men.

“Why?  What’d you think?  I sure as hell ain’t here on no social call,” the man drawled again.

“You need to leave and leave now,” Scott stepped forward, speaking for the first time.  He was trying very hard to control his anger.

“Not leaving until we ‘talk’ to Madrid,” the rider said.  “If you try to make us, a whole lot of people are going to get hurt.”

Standing at the barn door, Johnny listened to the exchange between his father and the riders.   He’d hoped Murdoch would persuade the men to ride on.  He would have gladly met these men in town, but it looked like he had no choice now.

Slowly, Johnny moved from the barn back to the corral and slid behind the Lancer’s hands while they were watching Murdoch and the riders.  He leaned back against the corral fence, raising his right leg and placing his foot against the lower fence board.

Frank and Walt, who were still standing where Johnny left them, hadn’t seen him return.  Frank finally saw Johnny out of the corner of his eye.  He elbowed Walt.  Neither of them had seen Johnny like this before.  They couldn’t see his eyes, but they would later learn that they were seeing the first signs of the transformation of Johnny Lancer into Johnny Madrid.

There was still silence in the yard. 

“You looking for me, Mister?” a soft level voice broke the silence.  The men closest to Johnny, including Frank and Walt, jumped and turned around.  The men parted to allow Johnny a clear view of the riders.

Johnny’s head was tilted down, and his hat pulled down over his eyes when he first spoke.  Now, he pushed his hat back and lifted his eyes to look at the men.  Slowly he crossed his arms across his chest, right over left.  He put the piece of straw in his mouth.

“Yeah, Madrid,” the man answered with a grin, “thought we’d take your reputation.”       

Johnny looked at the man and then said in a low, icy voice, “Frank, Walt step away.  All of you step away.  Now.”

No one had to tell Frank and Walt twice.  They moved quickly away and joined the other men in the yard who had already moved back several feet. 

The Lancer hands had no idea what to expect, however many of them already had their hands on their guns.

Johnny was still standing with his foot braced on the corral fence, never taking his eyes off the riders.  Slowly, he reached up and took the piece of straw from his mouth.

“So, you just ride into a man’s home and, what, decide it’s a good place for you to die?” Johnny drawled slowly with the smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

He pushed off the corral with the right foot.  The motion resulted in a smooth, even stride as he walked a few steps toward the riders.  The sound of his spurs jingling as he went.

“Don’t expect it’ll be me dying today,” the middle rider said as he threw his leg over the saddle horn and slid to the ground. “Madrid, if anyone is going to get buried, it’s gonna be you.”

Johnny’s smile widened, and he tilted his head slightly.

“Is that so?” Johnny replied in a low even voice, “It’s Lancer these days.  Don’t go by Madrid anymore.  Don’t really like bringing work home with me. You know how it is?  If you want, we can settle this in town.”

The man smiled and shook his head.

“Madrid, I know how it is, but we’re here now.  Might as well dance.”

“We?” Johnny said, looking at the other men.

He realized what was about to happen.  He did quick calculations as to his chances of 3 to 1.

“How do you want to play this?” Johnny asked casually. “One at a time or all three at once?”

The realization as to what Johnny said swept over the Lancers and the men in the yard.  Would all of them try to take Johnny at one time?   Scott stared at Johnny, amazed that his brother wasn’t even concerned with the prospect.  

“We thought we would just have a go, one at a time,” the man answered.  “We want to make sure it’s a fair fight.  Besides, 3 to 1 wouldn’t get me your reputation.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Johnny replied without skipping a beat.  Raising his voice, “So, which one of you jackasses wants to be first?”

Scott couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  These men had ridden into Lancer and were planning on killing his brother and ride out again.  He started to say something then thought better of it.  He’d learned some time ago not to distract Johnny when he was getting ready for this particular ‘dance.’

Murdoch looked at his son and then at the riders.  “Now, wait just a minute.”

“This is my business, old man,” Johnny said in a voice that was all Madrid.  “Take a step back.  You too, Scott.”

Murdoch started to move forward, and Scott grabbed his arm.  “No,” he whispered.  “It’s too late.  You can’t distract him.”

“These men gonna to stay out of it?” the man asked, looking around the yard. 

Johnny glanced slowly over his shoulder and saw the faces of the men that he worked with him.  He respected them and, for the most part, thought they liked and respected him.

There was a slight flutter to his heart when he looked at Murdoch and Scott.  He knew his face had shown the hesitation he felt.  He knew his family had seen it.  His eyes simply relayed the message, ‘I’m sorry.’

Murdoch and Scott nodded in unison. 

Johnny slowly turned back to face the man, resetting his face as he did.  Only those behind him had seen a slight change.

“They’ll stay out of it,” he took a breath, “unless you decide to change the rules.  Isn’t that right, Cipriano?”

“Si, Juanito,” Cipriano said, raising his voice.  “No one will interfere, unless, as you say, they try to change the rules.” 

The Segundo looked around at the men standing behind him.  An understanding passed between them.  His eyes fell on Walt, who was hesitating.  Walt took his hat off and wiped his forehead.  Placing his hat back on, he gave a slight nod in agreement.

Johnny nodded his approval.  He’d needed these seconds to release the tension around him.  He didn’t want any of these men involved, and he sure didn’t want any of them hurt.

The sun started to climb in the sky, and everyone was beginning to feel the heat of the day.  He didn’t know exactly how long they at been at this now, but it seemed like forever.  Johnny knew that it had only been a few minutes.

He forced himself to remain calm, not feeling the moisture forming on his back.  He knew his shirt was wet; sticking to his back, and he was glad he was wearing his jacket.  It wasn’t good for his image to let them see him sweat.

“If you’re sure, let’s get this ‘dance’ started,” Johnny said, letting out a breath he didn’t realize he had been holding.

“Damn, I need to get this under control.” 

He reached for his center and relaxed, breathing slowly.  “Just one more question?”

“What’s that?” the man answered.

“What your name?  All your names?”

“Why?” the man responded.

“Just wanted to know what names to put on your headstones,” Johnny replied dryly, sounding almost bored.

“Name’s Jerry Gibbons from New Mexico.  That there is Harry Lincoln and Joe Simpson, they’re both from Arizona.  Giving you our names so that these men know who we are.  Want them to be able to tell folks who killed the legendary Johnny Madrid,” Gibbons answered.    

Johnny smiled again, slowly nodded his head, and glanced to his right.  “Cipriano, you got those names?”

“Si, Juanito, I have them.  I will make sure the headstones are correct,” Cipriano replied with a smile on his face.  

Cipriano knew this ‘dance’ well.  The dance of the pistoleros.  He knew Johnny was playing with these men trying to throw them off, even if it was just slightly.

“So, “Johnny looked back at the man.  “Gibbons, you real sure you want to do this?  You want to think about it?  You know you can still ride away.”

“Nothing to think over, Madrid,” he answered, spitting on the ground in front of him.


Johnny learned long ago that a gunfight was much more than draw and shoot.  The ‘dance’ as they called it also involved the look, the talk, the walk, and the banter.

As a kid in Mexico, he’d spent hours searching out and watching the local pistoleros.  He paid attention to the way they talked and the way they walked.  He always noticed their clothing.  The clothes they wore had given them an air of invincibility. 

Since those early days in his career, he’d always looked and played the part right down to the signature color of his shirt. 

He’d found his first shirt in a store in a little town in Sonora and knew right away it was perfect for him.  He remembered the day he’d finally saved enough money to buy it.  The first time he put it on, even though it was a little large on him, he felt special for the first time in his life.  He was 12 years old.  An hour later, he’d killed his first man in a gunfight.

The one thing he’d noticed the most about the pistoleros was their spurs.  The sound of silver spurs jingling left an unnerving sound before a gunfight.  That’s why he always made sure it was the jingle of his spurs that broke the silence before the ‘dance’ started and the next to the last thing a man that faced him heard.  The last thing always being the sound of the gunshot that killed him.

Johnny lowered his gaze.  Placing both hands in his belt, he began the walk.  He slowly moved further from the corral into the yard.  The sound of his boots slightly scrapping the ground and his spurs jingling, filled the air. 

Some of the men watching had witnessed gunfights before; some hadn’t.  They listened to the banter between Johnny and Gibbons.  They watched as Johnny walked slowly and deliberately across the yard.  The grace with which he moved was mesmerizing.  The sound of his spurs breaking the silence.  

Johnny came to a stop and turned.  He took the piece of straw he was holding and flicked it away.  Looking at Gibbons, Johnny slowly reached up and reset his hat on his head.   He could see Scott and Murdoch off to his right.

“Damn,” he thought.  He hated to let them, any of them, see him as Johnny Madrid. At least, not the Madrid he was going to have to be today.    

Gibbons took his place in front of Johnny.

The air was heating up, but Johnny wasn’t feeling it now.  Letting himself relax, his right hand brushed the side of his holster.  His dark blue eyes had gone cold and hard.

Scott had seen his brother as Madrid before.  The transformation that took place always amazed him.  He watched as Johnny’s features changed while his eyes hardened, his shoulders relaxed, and his breathing became slow and even.

Johnny watched for the ‘tell.’  Every man had a ‘tell.’  Usually, it was the eyes: a slight blink or a change in the eye position.  Most times, it was just that quick eye movement, when the other man took his eyes off of Johnny’s eyes and let them fall to his gun.  That was when Johnny knew it was time to draw.

For years Johnny had tried to figure out what his own ‘tell’ was.  He had finally figured it out.  His ‘tell’ was the slight smile that came across his face just before drawing.  He now controlled his ‘tell’ as he watched the man in front of him.

Johnny knew what he did in the next few seconds would set the tone for the two gunfights to follow.  He needed to make sure what he was about to do made a statement.  A statement the other two wouldn’t soon forget.

He took a breath and exhaled.  His eyes never leaving the eyes of the man in front of him.  Then, there it was, the ‘tell.’

Gibbons reached for his gun, but Johnny had already crouched down, cleared leather, leveled his gun, fired, and re-holstered the Colt in one fluid motion by the time Gibbons had gotten his revolver halfway out of his holster.

Johnny put his hands on his belt and didn’t move as the man dropped his gun to the ground; looking at the blood spreading across his chest.  Johnny watched the shocked look on Gibbons’ face as he first fell to his knees and then onto the ground.

The sound of the gunshot resounded around the yard.  It was as if 62 men jumped at the same time.  Murdoch’s heart skipped a beat as he grabbed Scott’s arm.  Scott looked at his father, knowing his own heart had almost stopped.  Everyone who witnessed the gunfight took a collective breath.

Murdoch and Scott looked at Johnny.  They hadn’t even seen him draw.

A murmur started among the men and comments were whispered, “Never seen anything so fast.  All I heard was the shot.  Never did see him draw.”

Murdoch’s legs suddenly felt weak.  The ranch hands looked around and saw the look on their boss’s face.  They made room for him as he slowly moved to the corral fence and leaned against it.

Johnny took a quick breath and let it out.   He remembered now the feeling he always got when he’d finished a gunfight and was still standing.  The rush of blood pounding through his veins almost made him dizzy.

Johnny’s cold eyes looked at the other two men still on their horses.  For a split second, there was a look of amazement on their faces, neither man believing what they had just seen.

Knowing he could take a few seconds and take his eyes off of Simpson and Lincoln, Johnny looked over at Scott and Murdoch.  He saw his father slowly walk to the corral and use it for support.

Johnny lifted his hat and walked over to the Gibbon’s body.  Kneeling, he closed the man’s eyes.  Standing, he wiped his left hand across his forehead and, at the same time, returned his hat to his head.

“Don’t ever let them see you sweat.”.


Johnny turned back to the two men still on horseback.

“Well, you still want to do this, or do you think you should just go bury your friend there and move on?”

Another gunhawk dropped to the ground, handing the reins to his horse to the third man.  

“My turn now, Madrid,” he said as he walked over to look at the gunfighter lying on the ground.

“So, are you Simpson or Lincoln?” Johnny asked, adjusting his hat and his gun belt.        

“Joe Simpson,” the gunfighter answered.

Johnny nodded slowly. 

“You’re sure about this, Simpson?” Johnny asked.

Usually, this is when the other two would have picked up their friend and rode off.  Johnny couldn’t believe Simpson and Lincoln still wanted to face him.

“Real sure, half-breed,” was all the answer he got. 

Johnny nodded and smiled.

“Been called worse,” Johnny replied honestly.  “Cip, get that one out of here.” Indicating Gibbon’s body.

Cipriano waved his hand, and two vaqueros came forward.  He whispered something to them. The two men slowly moved forward and picked up Gibbon’s body.  They laid it on the other side of the yard before returning to their place behind the Segundo.

Johnny thought the men looked like they were moving in slow motion.  It was then he realized Cipriano told them to take their time, giving Johnny more time to prepare for the next gunfight.  He looked at Cipriano and nodded his thanks.  His Tio nodded back.

Johnny repositioned himself.  It looked like this was becoming a marathon.

“It would have been easier to take all three at the same time.” 

Those around him watched, as yet again, Johnny prepared himself.  This time there was a smile on his face. 

Johnny saw the doubt in Simpson’s eyes. 

Johnny waited for the ‘tell.’  There it was, a twitch of the man’s mouth.  It was a movement so slight he almost missed it and knew it would cost him.

Simpson started his draw.  Johnny drew, chocking the gun at the same time, crouched, leveled, and fired in one fluid motion. 

Simpson’s draw was only slightly behind Johnny’s.  He drew and partially leveled before Johnny’s bullet hit him in the chest.  Simpson’s gun fired as it left his hand and fell to the ground.  The shot hit harmlessly in the dirt in front of him.


Scott moved to his father’s side.

Murdoch closed his eyes and leaned on Scott, taking a deep breath as the two shots rang out.   Two shots?  Murdoch’s eyes flew open, looking toward his son.  

Johnny slipped his gun back into his holster as he slowly walked over to the body of the man he’d just killed.  Glancing at Cipriano, he nodded.

Cipriano again waved his hand, and the same two vaqueros moved forward.  They picked up Simpson’s body and laid it next to his partner.

Johnny’s eyes once again fell on his family.  Scott only nodded.  Murdoch looked at him with pleading eyes.

“Nothing I can do, old man,” he relayed with his eyes.

The sound of a buggy and running horses pierced the air.  Johnny looked toward the arch to see Val and Jose riding toward them.  Sam was following close behind.

Johnny looked at Murdoch.  He’d noticed Jose leaving earlier and now realized why.  A smile danced over his face.

“Guess he figured I was going to need Sam today.”

How long had he been out here?  Long enough for Jose to get to town and back.  He looked up at the sun and realized it was probably close to 8:00 by now.

Lincoln, who was still on his horse, turned slightly, watching the riders and buggy coming in.  Not knowing what to expect, he didn’t move.


Val stopped just at the edge of the yard.  Dismounting, he noted the man on horseback holding the reins of two other horses.  Val looked to his right and saw the bodies of the men who went with the horses.  He saw the Lancer hands standing near the corral, and his eyes fell on Scott and Murdoch, noting how pale Murdoch looked.

Sam’s buggy entered the yard.  He got out of the buggy, looking around.  He saw Murdoch and moved to the corral to stand next to him.

“Murdoch, what’s going on?” Sam asked in a quiet voice.  

Murdoch looked down at him.  “Glad you’re here, Sam.”

“How long has this been going on?” Sam looked around, seeing the two bodies on the other side of the yard.

“I’m not sure.” Murdoch looked at Scott.   

Scott lost in thought, looked at Sam.  “What did you say?”

“How long has this been going on?” Sam repeated.

Scott looked at the sun and then thought back.  “I don’t know. What time is it now?  Started around 6:15.”

“Johnny seems alright,” Sam commented, looking at his friend.

“So far,” Scott answered.

“Are we waiting for something?” Sam looked around again.

“The third man there,” Scott nodded toward Lincoln.  “All three called Johnny out.”

Sam’s eyes widened, and his mouth fell open.  He was speechless.


Val turned to look at Johnny for the first time.  He almost did a double-take—the shirt, the concho belt, the pants, the jacket, and especially, the face.  There was no doubt that Johnny Madrid was standing in front of him.

He slowly walked over to Johnny, careful not to move too fast.  “You doing alright, Amigo?”

“I’m fine,” Johnny answered, showing no emotion.

“You need anything?”

“Naw, Val, I got this.”

Val turned to Lincoln, still on horseback. 

“Mister, you real sure you want to do this?  I can’t stop you, but your friends over there made the mistake of not walking away.  You gonna make that same mistake?”

Lincoln stepped down from the horse and looked at the sheriff.  “Got a job to do,” he smiled.  “Anyways, got to figure he’s gettin’ pretty tired by now.”

“Don’t count on it,” Val said as he turned and looked at Johnny again.  “You got his name, Johnny.  You know, for the headstone?”

“I got it, Val,” Johnny smiled, looking at the ground, “Names Lincoln something.  Cip knows it.”

Asking a man’s name for the headstone was an old trick Johnny had used many times, and Val knew it.

Val knew that smile.  He looked Johnny over, from his head to toe.   Although the boy wasn’t hurt, Val could tell he was wound up as tight as a watch spring.  “Well, better let you get to it.  Want to go to town for a beer later?”

“Sounds real good,” Johnny answered, raising his head. 

Val moved toward the corral where the Lancers and Sam were standing.

Scott took a canteen from a post of the corral and slowly walked toward his brother.  He had one hand in the air, indicating he wasn’t a threat.

Coming to stand slightly to the left and behind Johnny, Scott took a drink from the canteen and held it out to Johnny.  “Thought you might want some water before you finish this up.  You know, cold beer does sound good right now.”

Johnny nodded and motioned Scott to move forward.  He took the canteen from his brother and took a long drink.  “Thanks, Boston,” he said, handing the canteen back.  “You’re right; it does sound good.  Frank, Walt, and I are planning on some poker tonight.  You want to join us?”

Scott looked toward Frank and Walt, who were themselves leaning against the corral.  Scott nodded. “Sure, I could use some of Frank’s money.  As Val said, I’ll let you get back to it.”

Scott returned to stand in front of Murdoch, Sam, and Val. 

Val glanced at Scott. “He come out this morning dressed like that?”

“Yes,” Scott replied, glancing back over his shoulder at his brother.  “Somehow, he knew he was going to need Madrid today.”

Murdoch listened to Val and Scott and realized for the first time what they were saying.  He looked at his youngest son.  He hadn’t even realized Johnny wasn’t dressed in work clothes today. 


“Let’s get this over with, Madrid,” Lincoln spat the words out.  “I ain’t got all day.  Need to go collect my money and head south.”

“So, this is a job?” Johnny’s eyes never left Lincoln.  “Who hired you to get killed?”

“Don’t matter.  I get my pay now and Gibbons’ and Simpson’s.   Guess that means I hit pay dirt, all that money and your reputation to boot. 

“So that you know, I’m not the last.  If I don’t make it, there’s one more.  He’s sitting up on that ridge watching to see what happens.  If I go down, he’s gonna ride in and finish the job.”

It was as if every man in the yard looked up at the ridge overlooking Lancer at the same time.

Val saw the lone figure sitting on horseback, then looked back at the Johnny.  He could see that for a fraction of a second, Johnny let the new information show in his face.  He knew Lincoln had seen it, too.

That’s right, Madrid,” Lincoln thought, “got your attention, didn’t I.”

Murdoch shut his eyes and said a silent, “Oh my, God!”

“Well,” Johnny lowered his head slightly for effect, then looked back up, “it is, what it is, Lincoln.  Don’t matter how many of you come.  I’m here until the ‘dance’ is over.  If you’re sure you want to do this, let’s get started.”

Johnny was amazed as to how fast he was able to draw Madrid to the surface and let him take over.  In the last four months, he’d worked hard to bury Madrid deep inside of him.  He guessed there were somethings a man couldn’t bury.  Somethings were so much a part of him that they wouldn’t stay buried. 

Johnny retook his stance.  The world around him fell silent.  He dug deep, relaxed, lowered his head, and then looked up with a smile on his face and hard cold eyes.  He looked for the ‘tell.’  Once again, it was the eyes.

Johnny gun cleared leather, leveled, and fired hitting Lincoln in the chest.   Lincoln had also leveled and fired. 

Johnny heard and then felt Lincoln’s bullet as it exploded into his left shoulder.  Pain shot through him and for a moment the breath was knocked out of him.  He felt the blood pour out of the wound, down his chest and across his stomach.  Fighting the shock, he didn’t move and didn’t let himself show the pain.  Lowering his head, he replaced his gun in his holster as he struggled to control his breathing.

He couldn’t let the pain show. There was one more to go and he still needed the edge.

Walking over to Lincoln, he looked down.  There was a faint smile on dying gunhawk’s face.

“Damn, you’re fast,” Lincoln said just loud enough for those closest to hear.

“I know,” Johnny answered with no emotion in his voice.  He watched as Lincoln eyes closed and his head rolled to the side.


The men in the yard started to relax.  Some slumped to the ground, leaning on the man next to him.

Murdoch and Scott started toward Johnny when Val caught both of them by the arms. “It ain’t over yet,” he said loud enough for everyone to hear.

They turned to see a lone figure leave the ridge overlooking the hacienda and start to ride in slowly. 

Val took the canteen and moved to stand in front of Johnny.  He blocked the incoming rider’s view of his friend. 

“Johnny, I can put a stop to this.  You just give me the word,” Val said in a low voice as Johnny took the canteen with his right hand.   

“I can’t do that, Val, and you know it,” Johnny sighed, still trying to control his breathing.  “Believe me; I wish I could.  You know how the ‘dance’ goes.  I won’t walk away from a fight.”

Johnny took a long drink from the canteen.  He closed his eyes and swayed a brief moment.  Val didn’t reach out to steady him.  Not in front of the man riding up.

“You hurt bad?” Val asked, trying not to move his lips.  He could see the hole in Johnny’s jacket at his shoulder and the bloodstain on his shirt. 

“Some,” Johnny answered, taking a deep breath.  “Glad to see Sam.  Guess my old man knows what he’s doing.”  Johnny hooked his left thumb in his belt and pulled his left arm closer to his body. With a frown, he said, “Messed up my favorite shirt.”

Val laughed.  He took the canteen back and nodded to his friend. 

“Alright, Amigo,” he said as he turned to the rider who was coming closer.

“Val,” Johnny said softly, “Murdoch and Scott.  You look after them if…”

Val drew up short and turned back to look at Johnny.  

“You look after them yourself,” he stared at Johnny, not believing what he was hearing.  “You thinking about giving up right now?  Let me tell you something; you don’t even think about giving up.  The Johnny Madrid I know doesn’t quit.  You know that you’re the only thing standing between whoever hired these men and your family.  If you give up, we might as well go ahead and dig three graves.  Murdoch and Scott will be lying next to you within a week.”

Johnny just looked at him. Of course, he was right.  “Thanks, Amigo.”

Val turned to the rider entering the yard.

“So, Mister, you come to join your friends?” Val pointed his chin toward the bodies that seemed to be piling up.

The stranger smiled and glanced around, letting his eyes fall on Johnny.  “Howdy, Johnny,” he finally said.

Val knew the face but couldn’t put a name to the man as yet. “You know him, Johnny?” Val asked, not taking his eyes off the stranger.

“I know him and so do you.  How you doing, Jake?  It’s been a while.  You’re a long way from home.” Johnny let a smile cross his lips.  “Val, you remember Jake Benton.  Jake, this is Val Crawford.  Val and I rode together.” 

Johnny heard a slight murmur.  He wasn’t sure if it was because some knew who Benton was or that they had just learned that Val had been a gunfighter, like Johnny.

Val’s eyes narrowed.  He remembered Benton.  The man was fast, too fast.  For the first time in all the years he had been with Johnny as Madrid, he was concerned.  He wondered if his friend was going to come out of this one alive.

“Crawford,” Benton nodded toward Val.  “Yeah, I remember you.  The way I remember it, you and Madrid were joined at the hip.” 

Neither Val nor Johnny said anything.

Benton laughed. “Hell, Madrid, time was you couldn’t blow your own nose without Crawford wiping it for you.”

Benton sneered at Val.

Turning back to Johnny, he said, “I’m doing alright, Johnny.  Been waiting a long time for this.  Figured my ‘friends’ there would have gotten the job done.  Kind of glad they didn’t. You know, when I heard you were the job, there wasn’t anything going to keep me in Texas.”

Johnny still didn’t say anything.

“Thought you were dead, Johnny-boy.  Heard the Rurales put you in front of a firing squad a few months ago,” Benton said, smiling as he dismounted.

“Shut up, Benton,” Johnny thought.

Val lowered his head slightly.  There was too much information being aired out here to suit him.

“Just goes to show you can’t believe everything you hear, Jake,” Johnny answered, not letting his emotions show on his face.

Benton looked Johnny over.

“Seems you gotta leak in that shoulder.  You want some time to plug it before we get started?  I can wait a minute.”   

Murdoch stood straighter and eyed his son carefully.  Johnny showed no sign of being shot. 

Sam reached down and held the back of Murdoch’s hand.  “Don’t worry, old friend, I’ll take care of it,” Sam whispered just loud enough for Murdoch and Scott to hear.

“Doesn’t bother me, Jake, just a graze.  I’ve had worse,” Johnny replied, knowing it wasn’t a lie.   “Cipriano, can you take care of our last visitor so that I can make this one welcome?” 

“Si, Sobrino,” Cipriano replied, waving his hand to the same two vaqueros to move Lincoln’s body out of the way.  “Someone is going to be digging a lot of graves today,” he said, smiling at the new arrival.

“Don’t worry, Johnny,” Val spoke up, “I’ll take the four of them back to town with me.  No sense in having them littering up Lancer land.”

“Thanks, Val.” Johnny smiled. “Does seem to be getting a little ripe around here.”

Val laughed.

“I wasn’t here in the beginning,” Benton drawled.  “Assume these fellows are staying out of this?”  He glanced at the men near the corral.

Johnny once again looked at the hands. 

“They’re not part of this, Benton.  They’ll stay out of it.  If you’re still standing when this is over, you ride out.  They all know that.”

“Fair enough, Johnny,” Benton nodded in agreement.   

“Alright, Benton, if you’re sure you want to do this, let’s get it done.  I have a poker game waiting in town for me tonight, and I need to get cleaned up.”  Johnny looked over at the men at the corral.  “By the way, Frank, you’re buying tonight.”

“You got it, Johnny,” Frank replied. “Seems only fair.  Seeing that you’ve been doing all the work today and we’ve just been standing around.”

“I noticed,” Johnny said, smiling. “You fellows ain’t got nothin’ better to do than stand around all day and watch me practice?”

“Gosh, Johnny,” Walt spoke up, “it’s been right educational watching you today.  I’ve learned a lot about how to draw a gun.  Of course, I also learned a lot about fools that don’t know when to walk away.”

Johnny let a smile play across his face.  “Guess you have at that.”

“One more thing, Benton,” Johnny cocked his head to the side, “you gonna tell me who hired you?  I mean, it had to be someone real determined to send four of you out here to try and take me down.”

“You know the rules of the game.  Don’t tell no one who hired you.” Benton lowered his eyes just for a second.  “But just so you know, if you get by me, which I doubt will happen, this won’t be over.  You still need to watch your back.  The man who hired me seems determined that you don’t see tomorrow.  Sounds like another range war brewing.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Johnny replied.   “So why not ambush me on the range?  Looks like it would have been easier than face to face.”

“No good taking your reputation in an ambush, Madrid.  Needed to be face to face with witnesses,” Benton answered.  He looked around, “Got to say there are lots of witnesses here. How many you figure 50 or so?”

“Closer to 60,” Johnny answered.  “Let’s get this over, Benton.  I’m getting a little hungry here.  Didn’t have much for breakfast.” 

“I told you to eat more this morning, brother,” Scott called out.

“So, you did Boston.  Next time I’ll listen to you,” Johnny glanced over his shoulder.  It was good to hear his voice.

“Brother?” Benton wondered, looking at Scott.  “He don’t look nothing like you.”

Johnny didn’t answer.

Benton looked around and then back at Johnny.  “Damn, he don’t look rattled at all.”  A thought came to him that might make a difference.

“So, Madrid, with those three, how many notches you got now, face to face?”  Benton questioned, glancing at the three bodies lying to the side of the yard.

Johnny shrugged.

Don’t do this, Benton. Not in front of these men.  Not in front of my family.”

Johnny replied, “Don’t keep count.  Never saw a need to.”

“That’s alright; I did some figuring for you.  With those three, what’s that make 28, 29,” Benton grinned.

Johnny’s face showed no emotion.  He didn’t answer.

“More?” Benton asked, surprised by Madrid’s lack of response.  “Did I miss a few?”

“You missed a few,” Johnny said in a voice void of emotion.

Benton smiled, “I’ve got 33 myself.  You’ll make 34.”

Finally, Johnny felt it was his turn to try to unnerve Benton.  A slight smile spread across his face. “Thirty-three, you say.  If that’s the case, by my figuring, we’ll be even after I take you down.”

There was a low murmur among the men that were watching.  Johnny blocked it out.

Scott looked at his father.  Murdoch simply lowered his head and closed his eyes.  Had Murdoch known how many times his brother had done this particular ‘dance’?  Was that in the Pinkerton reports?

Even Val was impressed with the number.  Of course, he’d been with Johnny since almost the beginning.  He figured the number was probably higher, a lot higher.

“Thought you didn’t keep count?” Benton laughed.

“Haven’t thought about it since I tried to hang up my gun,” Johnny replied with emphasis on “tried.”  “A rancher doesn’t need to keep a tally like that.”

“Is that what you’re doing here?  You’re trying to give up the gun and be a rancher?” Benton laughed.  “Don’t you know by now men like us can never give up our guns.  We’ve lived by the gun too long, and we’ll, eventually, die by the gun.  No, Madrid, there’s no escaping our Fate.”

“You’re wrong.  Fate can be cheated.  A man can hang up his gun if he wants to bad enough and if he has a reason,” Johnny corrected Benton, praying he was right.  Everything in his life depended on him being right.  He had his reasons for giving up his gun, and they were standing fifty feet away.

Johnny smiled. “You’re right about one thing. You’ve lived by your gun, Benton, and you’re about to die by it.”

‘Damn, the kid’s good,’ Benton thought.

Silence once again fell over the yard.   Johnny and Benton took their places facing each other.

Benton glanced down at the blood-soaked ground around him.  He had a fleeting thought that this probably wasn’t as good an idea as he had once thought it would be.

“Still, Madrid was hurt,” Benton thought to himself.  It had been close to 30 minutes since Madrid had taken out Lincoln, thirty minutes since he was wounded.  “Would that slow him down enough to make a difference?”  He sure as hell hoped so.                 


Johnny had seen Benton work before and already knew his ‘tell.’  This time Johnny watched not only the eyes but also the man’s face.   Benton always had a little grin cross his face just before he drew.  Johnny set his face with a smile; his eyes were once again dark and cold.

Everyone seemed to be holding their breath.  Murdoch didn’t know how much more he could handle.  He had been standing in the sun now for over 2 hours.   The men around him were tired and emotionally exhausted.  He could only imagine how his youngest son was feeling.   

Scott wiped his sweating hands on his pants and then rubbed his hand over his face.  It was too hot out here.   

Come on, Johnny, get this done.’  

He knew his brother had was wounded.  He didn’t know how bad he was hurt, but he knew Johnny was bleeding.  He could see drops of blood on the ground next to his left boot.  It appeared to be dripping from his arm.

Val’s eyes followed Scott’s.  He was watching the drops of blood begin to flow faster.  Sam noticed what Val was watching.  He grimaced as he saw how much blood was forming.

Their eyes went back to Johnny’s face.  Small beads of sweat were forming on his forehead.

Benton almost flinched when he saw Johnny’s eyes staring at him.  Then he also saw the beads of sweat forming on the gunfighter’s forehead. 

“Good,” Benton thought.  “Maybe, I do have a chance after all.”  

Benton turned his attention back to the task at hand.   

“Anytime, Madrid.”

Johnny only nodded.  He took a breath and let his shoulders relax, his right fingers flexed.  There was no time to think about how tired he was.  No time to feel the pain.   No time to think of his family.  No time but to do what he did best. 

He watched Benton’s face.  He saw the grin start.  Johnny drew at that very moment, knowing he needed every second this time.  He crouched and stepped to the right.        

Benton had cocked his gun before clearing leather and leveled.

The two men fired at the same time.  Johnny’s bullet hit Benton dead center of the chest.

Benton knew he was a dead man.  He dropped his gun and looked at Johnny standing in front of him with that damn smile still on his face.   Benton fell forward and hit the ground.

Benton’s bullet had also been true.  It hit Johnny on his left side below the jacket’s edge.  This time, Johnny couldn’t help but turn away as the bullet impacted, but he fought to remain standing.  Correcting himself, he held his ground.

Johnny holstered his gun and turned to look at his family and friends.  With the information Benton had just given them, he couldn’t let anyone know he was hurt. 

“Well, I sure hope that’s all for today,” Johnny announced, pushing his hat back a little with his right hand. “Feels like I’ve been run over by the whole herd.” Laughing, he turned toward his family.

The hands were all smiling.  Some had collapsed entirely, now sitting on the ground.

Val moved to Johnny’s side.  He’d seen Benton’s bullet hit its mark and Johnny turn aside at the impact.  Just as quickly, Johnny seemed to have recovered.  He knew why his friend wasn’t showing anyone he was hurt or how badly.

Johnny looked at Val and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “Val, thanks for coming out.  Wish you could have talked them out of this.  I sure wasn’t having any luck at doing it.  You want to come in and get something cold to drink?”

“Sounds good to me.  I am kinda’ dry,” Val answered, plastering a smile on his face.

“Sam, sorry you made the trip out here for nothing.” Johnny looked over his shoulder.  “You want something to drink, too?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”  Sam played along.  “Are you hurt, except for the nick on your arm?”

Johnny looked at him, confused.

“Don’t think he is, Sam,” Val replied, glancing over his shoulder at Sam.  He could see that Johnny was in deep trouble. “Looks like no more than a razor nick to me.  Might want to get your bag anyway.”  

“I think you deserve that beer tonight,” Scott declared as he advanced on Johnny.  He took one look at his brother’s face and knew they needed to move fast.  “Brother, I need to get inside.  I’m about to keel over out here.”

Sam walked to his buggy to get his bag.

Cipriano lowered his head and crossed himself.  “Gracias a Dios,” he said quietly.  Turning, he looked at the hands now sitting on the ground. “So, do none of you want to work today,” he yelled out.  “We have a ranch to run.”

The men looked at him like he was crazy.  Every one of them felt like they’d worked a week in these few short hours. 

Frank looked at Walt and shook his head. “You know, I might just buy him a whole barrel of beer.” He laughed, hitting Walt on the back with his hat.

Soon everyone was laughing.

Walt walked over to where Johnny had been standing for all those hours.  He looked at the ground.  He called Frank over.   “Look at that,” he said, pointing to the blood that had pooled next to where Johnny’s left foot had been.

Cipriano and Jose joined them.   A few others started to wander over.   They knew Johnny had been hit once.  Almost as one, they turned to watch as Johnny walked, with his usual gait, toward the house.  The sound of his spurs ringing.


Scott rushed ahead, opening the door.  He held the door open as Johnny walked into the house.

Teresa and Maria ran to meet them.  They’d heard the first shot and then watched in horror as the other three gunfights took place.

“Johnny,” Teresa called out as she reached for his arm.

Johnny waved her off and walked into the Great Room.  He lowered his head, his hat falling forward to the floor.  Suddenly, he felt cold.  A visible shiver ran through him.   

Val moved to his side.

“I think I’m gonna go lay down for a while.  Kinda’ tired,” Johnny spoke slowly, letting his voice trail away.  He took several steps toward the stairs, before leaning against Val and sliding to the floor. 

“Sam!” Murdoch bellowed, running to his son’s side.

“Right here, Murdoch.” Sam knelt beside Johnny and Val.  “Now, let me get a look at him.”

Johnny laid his head back against Val’s chest and opened his eyes.

“Lincoln’s bullet got the left shoulder.  It was Benton… left… side.”  Johnny uttered; his breathing labored.  He started coughing.  “Dios, I’m cold.”

“It’s alright, Johnny,” Sam said, looking at the wounds. “Murdoch, I’m going to need the table in the kitchen.  He has two bullets in him.”

Maria ran to the kitchen and cleaned the wooden table off.  It was the same table they’d used when they took Pardee’s bullet out of Johnny’s back.

Johnny looked up at Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa. “Sorry, old man.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Son.”  Murdoch leaned down, running his hand through his son’s dark hair.  “They would have found you in town, if not here.  At least here, you had people watching your back.”

Johnny gave him a faint smile before his eyes rolled back in his head as he surrendered to the darkness.



As the family and Val paced the Great Room, they continually glanced toward the kitchen where Sam was operating on Johnny.  In Murdoch’s opinion, it was taking far too long.  He wanted to be with his son.  Looking at the faces of Scott and Val, he knew they agreed with him. 

Finally, Sam finished stitching and dressing the last wound.  It had taken him two hours.  Two long hours and his back felt every minute of it.  Leaving Johnny with Teresa and Maria, he walked into the Great Room.   

“Sam!” Murdoch started toward the tired doctor.

“A minute, Murdoch.  We need to get him to his room.  Once he’s settled, I’ll answer all your questions.”

Val and Scott didn’t waste any time in going to the kitchen.  They lifted the unconscious man and carried him upstairs.

Sam followed them up.  Once Johnny was safely in bed, he came back downstairs, leaving his patient with Teresa. 

Sam had never felt so tired in his life.  He needed a cup of coffee and needed it badly.  The moment he entered the Great Room and took one look at the three anxious men waiting for him, and knew the coffee was going to have to wait. 

Sam took a breath and began.  “I got the bullets out of his shoulder and side.  He’s lost a lot of blood and I’m afraid a fever has already started.”

Murdoch walked over to the drink cart and poured a whiskey for Sam and handed it to him.  Sam looked at the drink and sighed.  It wasn’t coffee, but at the moment, it would have to do. 

Sam collapsed into a chair.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.  I’ve seen gunfights before but nothing like this.  I don’t know where he got the strength to keep going.  The shoulder wound was deep into the muscle, but the last one was the worst.  His shirt was pulled into the wound.  It took me a while to get the bullet out and then clean the wound.  Thank God, he was unconscious for all of it.”

Murdoch slumped onto the sofa, placing his head in his hands.  He realized that he was still shaking.

Scott sat next to his father, completely drained.  He looked at Val, who sat in the chair in front of the fireplace.  There was no fire, but his eyes were focused there all the same.

“They said they were hired to do a job,” Val spoke, not looking up.  “Who would have enough money to hire, not one but four top guns to come after Johnny?”

Murdoch and Scott both turned their heads to look at Val.  They had forgotten what Benton said. “The man that hired me seems determined that you don’t see tomorrow.  Sounds like another range war brewing.”

“Val, do you think they’ll come again?” Scott asked.  “I mean, like today?”

“I don’t know.” Val shook his head. “I don’t think it would be like today.  I could be wrong.   No one with any sense will want to take Madrid on for a while.”  He stood up and leaned on the fireplace.  “Of course, there are plenty out there that will try.”

“I’ve known Johnny for a lot of years.  I’ve watched him go up against some of the best.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him faster than he was today.  I saw how fast he was with Lincoln and Benton.  I can’t imagine how fast he was with the first two when he wasn’t hurt and tired out.  Yep, I think Johnny Madrid is the fastest man alive.”

“It’s Lancer,” Murdoch said, raising his head and voice, looking at Val.  “His name is Lancer, not Madrid.” 

Val looked at Murdoch and bit his tongue.

“Don’t matter what name you call him, he’s still the fastest gun around,” Val thought.     

Scott looked over at his father and then at Val before speaking.  “Yes, Val, he is fast.  Very, very fast.”


Murdoch eased Johnny’s door open.  Teresa was straightening up the room and looked up at him with a smile.

“He’s sleeping.” She looked at Johnny’s face to see if there were any signs of pain.

“I want to just sit with him for a little while.” Murdoch pulled a chair close to the bed.  He reached over to brush the hair from his son’s forehead.  Feeling the slight heat radiating from his face, he turned to look at Teresa.

“He has a fever.  Sam said we probably got to the wounds soon enough that it won’t be bad.  I hope not.  He went through a lot out there this morning.  Murdoch, what was that all about?” 

She moved to stand next to her guardian.                  

“I’m not sure, honey,” he replied.  “Something I hope is never repeated here or anywhere else.”

Scott and Val entered the room, looking at the still form in the bed.  Scott moved to the other side of the bed and took his brother’s hand.

Blue eyes fluttered open, looking up at his brother.

“Hey, Boston.”  Slowly he turned his head to see his father and Teresa with Val and Sam coming in the door.  “You having a party?” he asked, with a weak smile.

Murdoch smiled down at him. “Well, son, we thought we would just drop in and see how you were doing.”

“Been better.”  Johnny thought for a second, “been worse.”   He tried to push himself up and paid for it with a wave of pain.

“Johnny lay back,” Sam said, moving forward and pushing him back down into the bed.

“Yeah,” Johnny grimaced, “guess that would be a good idea.”  Looking at Val standing at the foot of the bed, he frowned.  “Val, what are you thinking?”

Val raised his gaze to meet Johnny’s.  “Someone made a pretty big move this morning.  Don’t know who has the money around here to hire four big guns like that.”

Johnny nodded slowly in agreement.  “Not sure I ever want to go through that again.  It would have been real easy to get them all at once, but one at a time wore me out.”

No one said anything.

Val walked to the side of the bed and took a deep breath.

“Johnny, I don’t think it would be a good idea for folks to find out how bad you were hurt today.  Right now, most everyone figures you weren’t hurt since you walked away.”

Johnny looked at the ceiling struggling to keep his eyes open.

“So, how do we need to play this?” his voice almost a whisper.

“Simple, we just convince folks you took these four down clean.  Once word gets out, I think you’ll have put the fear of God into every gunhawk in the state.  We need to keep it that way.”

“How?” Scott asked.  “How are you planning on making people believe Johnny wasn’t hurt?”

“Mr. Lancer, I need to take those four bodies into town.” Val looked at Murdoch. “Can you let me take six of your men with me, both vaqueros and cowhands?”

Murdoch nodded.                  

“I need to talk to them first, and they need to be men you trust,” Val continued.

Murdoch looked at his oldest son. “Scott, would you go get Cipriano, Jose, Walt, Frank and tell Cipriano we need two more men he can trust.”

Scott nodded and pushed back from the bed and headed downstairs.  He wasn’t sure what was going to happen, and he wasn’t sure he was going to like it.  The only thing he knew was that his brother was alive, and he wanted to keep it that way.


Scott walked outside slowly and calmly with a smile on his face.  The hands looked up from what they were doing and returned the smile.  Everyone seemed to be relieved that the events of the morning were over.

Scott realized Murdoch hadn’t come back out to give instructions on the jobs for the day.

“Cipriano?” Scott walked up to the Segundo. 

“Si, Senor Scott,” Cipriano responded.

“Cipriano, I need … we need your help,” Scott’s voice was quiet. 

Cipriano knew it was about Johnny.

“Anything, Senor Scott,” Cipriano replied with a broad smile on his face. He gently slapped Scott’s back, as if hearing good news.

“Would you get Frank, Walt, Jose, and two other men you can trust, really trust, and bring them to the house.  You’re going into town with Sheriff Crawford when he takes those four to the undertaker.  Come up to Johnny’s room.”

The two men were still smiling as Scott turned and walked back to the house.

Cipriano looked at the men in the yard.

“Senor Lancer has decided there will be no work assignments today.” Looking directly at the men he’d chosen, he called out, “Frank, Walt, Jose, Joe, and Juan, the Patron needs your help.  Get your horses and meet me in front of the hacienda.” 

The five men stifled a groan as they went for their horses.  Tying them off at the hitching post in front of the house, they waited for Cipriano.

Once all the men were together, Cipriano led them into the house. 

The men looked around as they made their way upstairs, not understanding where they were going.  Most of them had only seen the inside of the house briefly, and only two had been upstairs.

Cipriano moved down the hallway with his men in tow.  As he got to Johnny’s room, he saw the door was already open.  Scott and Murdoch sat on either side of the bed, Murdoch holding his son’s hand.  Val and Sam stood at the foot of the bed, blocking their view.

When everyone was in the room, Val and Sam moved to the window.  Cipriano and the men got their first good look at the bed. 

“Dios mio.” Cipriano crossed himself as his eyes fell on the pale figure lying in bed.

“Val, you want to tell them what this is about,” Murdoch spoke up, laying Johnny’s hand down.

“Well, boys, this is how it is.” Val stepped forward.  “We figure that someone made a move today on Johnny and, most probably, on Lancer itself.  They’re trying hard to get Johnny out of the way.  Whoever it is, believes that with Johnny gone, Lancer will fall in the bargain.”  

He stopped and looked at the six men who were still staring at Johnny lying in bed with his eyes closed.  They seemed fascinated with the contrast between the bandages and his tan skin.

“Cipriano,” Scott looked up from his brother, “we need you and the men to go into town with the Sheriff.  You’ll be taking the bodies with you.  The entire town needs to see Lancer men bringing in the bodies.  If someone is trying to make a play for Lancer, we want them to know they’re in for a fight.”

Murdoch stood and looked at his men.

“Under no circumstances, can anyone find out how badly Johnny was hurt today.  You are the men we… I’m trusting with this information.  It’s you I’m personally trusting with my son’s secret and his life.  No one else can know.”

“Do not worry, Patron,” Cipriano said. “We are loyal to you and your sons. We will protect Juanito.”

All six men nodded.

“If anyone asks questions, you tell the truth about this morning,” Murdoch added. “You make sure people know what happened and how Johnny handled it.”

“Anyone finds out how bad Johnny was hurt, I figure more gunhawks are going to show up,” Val said.  “He was hurt pretty bad this morning.  We can’t let anyone know that.  The folks in town need to believe Johnny had no problems taking those four down.”

“Heck, Val,” Walt spoke up, “he didn’t have no problem.  I never saw anything like it.”

Johnny had been listening with closed eyes.  He opened his eyes and smiled at Walt.  “Thanks, Walt, but I guess I did have a little problem.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be lying here with two bullet holes in me. “

“When did it happen, Sobrino?” Cipriano asked.  “We did not know you were wounded this badly.”

Johnny looked at the men he was relying on and figured they deserved the information.  “Sam,” Johnny said, indicating he would let Sam give them the details.

Sam moved over to stand by the bed. 

“Johnny was hit twice. Once in the left shoulder and once in the left side.”

“So many?” Jose questioned.  “That is why there was so much blood on the ground where you were standing?”

Johnny’s head shot up.  There was nothing he could do to hold back the cry of pain that escaped.  Sam moved over quickly, pushing him down.  “Johnny, I need you to take something for pain.” Sam brought a bottle of laudanum to his patient’s lips.

Johnny shook his head in a definite ‘NO’ while pushing the bottle away.

Scott came to his feet.

“Cipriano, how many people saw the blood pool?”

“Most of the men, Senor Scott.”

“Well, that cuts it,” Val growled, turning back to the window. “Not sure we can pull this off if anyone thinks you’re completely laid up.”

Johnny laid back, taking slow breaths, trying to control the pain. 

He heard Murdoch start talking.  “I want to keep 20 men near the house tonight.  Cipriano, see that the rest of the men go into town.  Tell them the first round is on me.  We’re celebrating.  Let the men tell anyone and everyone what happened this morning.  I want the people in town and anyone else who is listening to know how Johnny handled the situation and that he’s fine.” 

“Cipriano, send the men back a few at a time.  Bring them around the back way,” Scott added.   “I don’t know if we’re going to have more trouble tonight, but I don’t want to take a chance.”

Johnny opened his eyes again.

“Well, there is only one way I know this is going to work,” he said, looking at Sam, “and I know you’re not going to like it.”

“What exactly are you planning, young man?” Sam moved closer to the bed.

“The hands need to see me this afternoon.  They have to see me walking and talking,” Johnny answered, waiting for both Sam and Murdoch to raise the roof.

“I don’t like this, John,” Murdoch was watching his son’s flushed face.  “I don’t like it, but I know you’re right.”  Everyone in the room, including Sam, looked at him.

Val saw the young man in the bed visibly relax.   He knew Johnny had been ready for a battle.  Thankfully one didn’t come.  He didn’t think his friend could have managed another one today.

Sam shook his head.  “I can’t believe you would agree to this, Murdoch.  Do you know how sick this boy is right now?  I’ve just taken two bullets out of him.”

“I know, Sam,” Murdoch’s eyes never left Johnny’s face.  His son looked so young at that moment.  He’d come so very close to losing the boy… again.

Johnny’s eyes met his father’s.  Murdoch knew they were going to do this Johnny’s way.

Sam watched both men.  “Well, if you have to do this, then I want to be here when you do it.  I don’t like it, but I guess I know why you’re doing it.”

“I want you to follow us into town, Sam,” Val’s spoke up.  “Since Johnny’s not supposed to be hurt there is no need for you to be at Lancer.”

Sam only nodded with the look of disapproval still on his face.

“Alright, boys, let’s get this done,” Val said, turning back to Johnny.  “You sure you want to do this, Amigo?”

“Don’t see any other way, Val,” Johnny replied weakly. “If our own hands don’t believe this, then no one else is going to either.”

“Let’s go,” Val nodded and turned to Cipriano. “I need four of you to help me get the bodies tied over the saddles.  Two of you stay here and help Johnny get downstairs.”

Cipriano told Frank and Walt to stay behind with Johnny while the rest left the room. 


Johnny closed his eyes and willed himself to get this done.

“Need to get me dressed,” Johnny raised slowly and painfully up on one elbow.  “Has to be the same clothes I had on this morning.” 

“If you’re bound and determined to do this, I want you to take some laudanum first.”  Sam moved forward with the small brown bottle. “Johnny, just enough to take the edge off.”

Johnny thought about it for a few seconds, then nodded his head in agreement.

Murdoch, Scott, Walt, and Frank spent the next 30 minutes getting Johnny’s clothes on him.  Sam stood to one side with a frown on his face.   If Johnny hadn’t been hurting so badly, the scene would have been funny.  

Walt and Frank held Johnny up while Scott and Murdoch wrestled his calzoneras onto him.

“How do you get these things on?” Scott was trying to pull the tight pants up onto his brother.

“I don’t have any trouble getting them on.” Johnny was getting frustrated.  He hurt, and it was taking too long to get his pants on him.  “Just unbutton the sides,” he finally said.  

“Oh.” Scott looked at the buttons as if realizing for the first time that the conchos on the sides of the pants allowed the legs to open.

Johnny looked at the shirt they put on him and said it wasn’t going to work.  He needed the shirt he’d been wearing that morning.

Scott stared at him.  “Johnny, that shirt has blood and holes all over it.  I don’t even know if Teresa can mend it.”

There was a disappointed look on the young man’s face as Walt and Frank sat him on the side of the bed. 

“That’s my favorite shirt.”  He looked like he was going to cry.  Finally, he looked up. “Don’t matter, put it on me anyway.  I’ll put the jacket back on.  No one is going to get close enough to notice the holes.”

Everyone looked at him and then Scott started to laugh.  Murdoch joined in shortly after that and Frank and Walt couldn’t help themselves.  When Johnny frowned, Sam just shook his head.

“That boy. Here he is his with holes all over his body, and he is worried about a shirt.”

Frank and Walt helped Johnny up again, holding him upright, while Scott buttoned the pants.  Frank looked over at Walt.  They had Johnny around the bare waist; holding him tight enough so that he wouldn’t fall.  Walt nodded to Frank knowing he was thinking the same thing.  There was enough heat coming off of Johnny to fry an egg.

“Doc,” Walt spoke up while watching Scott finish with the pants, “he feels awful hot.”

Everyone stopped what he was doing.  Sam advanced on Johnny, putting a hand to his head.

“John, you’re burning up,” Sam stated.   “We can’t go through with this.”

“Got to Sam,” Johnny sagged against Frank on his right.  His entire left side was burning now.   “Just get me dressed and downstairs.  We need to get this over with pretty soon,” he grimaced.  “Don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to stay on my feet.”

The room fell silent.

“Get the shirt on him,” Scott broke the silence.   Sam handed them the pink shirt, complete with holes and bloodstains.

Walt and Frank felt Johnny trembling and gently lowered him back to the edge of the bed.

Johnny lowered his head as a wave of nausea sweep over him.   He swallowed hard to keep the bile down.

Sam watched warily.  He didn’t like this, not one bit.  When he saw the color drain from the boy’s face and then turn to a pale shade of green, he grabbed a wash pan and stood ready.

Finally, Johnny fought down the rising bile and looked up.

Scott put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Are you alright?”.

“Fine,” he nodded after a few seconds, taking a few deep breaths.

Murdoch helped Scott put Johnny’s boots on him and then his jacket. He raised his eyes to meet Johnny’s.

“Son, you don’t have to do this.” 

“I know,” Johnny answered and looked at Walt and Frank.  “Help me up.”

The men lifted Johnny to a standing position. 

“Where’s my rig?” he asked in almost a whisper.

“I’ve got it.” Murdoch handed it to him, noting his son’s hand was shaking slightly.   

Johnny took the belt in his right hand.  Scott started to help him, but Johnny put the belt on in one fluid motion as if nothing were wrong.  He looked back at the men staring at him.

Sitting on the bed, Johnny lowered his head.

“Practice,” is all he said.

The men turned when they heard footsteps in the hallway.  Cipriano walked into the room. “Sheriff Crawford says he is ready.”

Johnny looked at Walt and Frank and nodded for them to help him up again.  

Walt and Frank put their arms around his waist, careful to avoid the wound in his side.  They helped him down the stairs, into the Great Room, and to the front door.

Johnny pushed them away and balanced himself near the door.  Looking back at the men watching, he closed his eyes and leaned his head against the cool wall.  Taking a deep breath, he pulled himself up taller.

Johnny Lancer lowered his head and relaxed his body.  When he raised his head, Johnny’s features changed and his eyes hardened. 

Johnny Madrid was standing in front of them.

Sam hurriedly put a sling on his left arm to mimic the graze he was supposed to have had.  Johnny turned, taking his hat and without any expression of pain, walked out the front door.

Sam, Frank, and Walt hung back, watching through the French doors.

“There it was again,” Walt said.  “Did you see the change in him?”

“I saw it,” Frank said. “Same as happened this morning next to the corral.  He went from Lancer to Madrid in a heartbeat.”

Sam nodded to the two men. He’d also seen it.      


Johnny walked out to the edge of the veranda and looked around.

Murdoch and Scott hung back near the door, pretending they were talking while keeping a close eye on Johnny.

“Hey, Val,” Johnny yelled out.

The yell to Val brought the attention of everyone in the yard, corral, and barn.  Johnny walked out a few feet into the yard as Val rode over and loudly announced he was taking the bodies into town.

“You coming into town tonight?” Val asked with the same loud voice.   

Johnny laughed, “Murdoch told me if I even think about leaving the ranch tonight, he was going to take me out to the woodshed.  He thinks this is going to cause problems.” 

He raised the left arm a fraction and felt the pull in his shoulder and side. 

Val’s body blocked the expression on Johnny’s face from the men who were watching.

“That little scratch,” Val snorted.  “I’ve had worse shaving.”

“Me, too, Val, but the old man says I’ve done enough today,” he lowered his head a fraction.

Val watched the color drain away from his friend’s face.

“You alright?” he asked in a soft voice.

“Go ahead and get out of here, Val,” Johnny said in a lower voice, his breathing becoming labored.  “Not going to be able to stand here much longer.”

“You take care of yourself.  I’ll take care of things in town.” Val nodded and turned his horse. 

Johnny straightened and watched the little troop leave the yard.  Scott and Murdoch moved over to stand next to Johnny.  They could see beads of sweat forming on his face.

Johnny turned to Scott, smiling and put his right arm around his brother’s shoulders as he had done a hundred times before.  Scott could feel Johnny put his weight on him. 

“That’s enough,” Sam whispered the words from inside the house.  “He needs to get back in here.”

Scott put his arm over Johnny’s shoulder.  He held his brother closer as he felt the quivering in his shoulders and heat radiating from his body.  He looked out over the yard.  Men had come from the barn and the bunkhouses to see him standing strong. 

“Ready to go back in?” Scott asked in a soft voice with a smile on his face.

“Soon,” Johnny replied, pushing off of Scott and turning back to face the yard.

Murdoch announced to the men who were going to town that the first round was on Lancer.  There was a cheer from the men.  The older hands had never known Murdoch to stand them a round of drinks, except at the end of a cattle drive.

The hands soon started going back to what they were doing. 

Johnny turned and went back through the front door.  The next thing he vaguely remembered was sinking into his bed and Walt and Frank walking out of the room. 

Sam looked at Johnny’s stitches and was amazed that none were pulled out.  He shook his head.

“The fever’s getting worse,” he said as he watched Murdoch take a seat next to the bed. 

Sam looked at Teresa.

“You know what to do.  Tea and broth only.  As much water as you can get in him.  Keep the cool compresses on him until the fever breaks.”

“I know what to do, Sam,” Teresa said as she left the room to get another pitcher of fresh water.

Murdoch stood up and ran his hand over his son’s forehead.  “Sam, I’ll walk you out.”

Murdoch and Scott followed Sam out of the room and to his buggy.

“Since I’m not needed here, I might as well get going,” Sam announced loudly as he climbed into the buggy.  In a lower voice, “Don’t let Johnny do that again.”

Scott saw Walt and Frank waiting next to their horses. “Can you make sure that Sam gets back to town without any problems?”

Walt and Frank nodded that they understood.  Mounting, they waited until Sam’s buggy was moving, then fell in behind as it moved away from the hacienda and toward the road to Green River.

Twenty minutes later, Sam, Walt, and Frank caught up with Val and the other Lancer men leading the horses with the dead gunhawks tied over them.   

They waited for Sam’s buggy to come to a stop. Val looked at Sam and asked, “Well, how did it go after we left?”

“The young fool stood out there for almost another 10 minutes, smiling and talking to Scott and Murdoch.  I guess everyone believed he was alright. When he got inside, he collapsed into Walt’s arms.” Sam answered, shaking his head.

“We got him back to bed, but …,” Frank hesitated.

“But what?” Val asked, looking at Frank.

“He had a real high fever.” 

“Sam?” Val’s voice resonated with concern.

“Teresa knows what to do.  If they can’t get the fever down, Murdoch will send for me.  I plan on coming back tomorrow afternoon to check on him anyway.”

Val nodded and started to move again when Frank spoke up.

“Sam, can I ask you something?”   

“What is it, Frank?”

Frank hesitated, “How old is Johnny?”

Sam thought for a second and replied, “Eighteen.  He’ll be nineteen in December.”

Val didn’t say anything.  Thinking back on the time they’d ridden together, he’d often wondered how old the boy was.  Now he knew.

‘Too young,’ Val thought. ‘Too damn young.’


It wasn’t long after they’d gotten Johnny back to bed that Murdoch concluded Teresa had no place in the young man’s room. 

Tossing violently, Johnny threw the covers off his bed again and again.  No matter how many times Murdoch covered him up, Johnny pushed the covers away.   Finally, Murdoch banned Teresa telling her that although Johnny had long john bottoms on, it wasn’t proper for her to see the boy half-naked.

“Murdoch, I’ve seen Johnny in his long johns before,” Teresa said as Murdoch pushed her out of the room. 

“Perhaps, darling but not this time.  The only woman I want in this room is Maria.  Do you understand?” Murdoch stated firmly as he closed the door on his young ward.


Johnny’s body was on fire, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t catch his breath.   He tried to cough as waves of pain swept over him.  He knew he had to wake up but couldn’t fight his way to the surface.

He could feel a cold cloth on his face and neck and someone speaking quietly to him.  As hard as he tried, he couldn’t make out the words, but he knew it was Murdoch’s voice.

All he knew for sure was that he had to get outside where he knew it would be cooler.  He sat up and started to swing his feet off the bed.  It was then that strong hands took hold of his shoulders and pushed him back into the bed.  He fought against the hold, needing to get outside.  He had to get someplace cooler.           

He swore in both English and Spanish.  He cursed everything; the hands that held him down; the pain and the fever; the universe in general.  The harder he fought, the more pain he was in, and the tighter the hold was on him.                

“Scott,” Murdoch yelled.   He hoped his voice hadn’t carried outside the house.  There was no response from his eldest son.  He knew he needed help.  However, there was no way he was going to be able to leave Johnny to search for Scott.

Finally, he realized he had no choice.  Pushing Johnny back onto the bed one more time, he turned and ran from the room.  He got to the top of the stairs when he heard the front door close.  He looked across the Great Room and saw Scott walking in.

“Scott,” Murdoch choked out, “hurry, I need your help.”

Scott took off at a run, taking the steps two at a time.  He ran down the hallway.

Murdoch found Johnny lying on the floor when he got back to the room, thrashing violently and gasping for breath.  Tinges of red were showing through the bandages on his shoulder and at his side.

Murdoch put both arms around his son and held him in a bear hug.  He knew he wasn’t going to be able to keep him still, let alone get him back to bed. 

Scott knelt next to his brother.  He put his hand on Johnny’s forehead. The fever was higher now than it had been an hour earlier.

“We have to get his fever down,” Scott stated the obvious.  “I’ll get some more water.  We’ll try to bathe him all over.  Maybe, that will help.  I wish we’d kept either Walt or Frank here to help.”

Murdoch barely heard what Scott said or noted when he left the room.  He sat down on the floor with his son’s bare back against his chest.  Wrapping both of his arms around Johnny’s shoulders, he pulled the struggling boy firmly against him.  He could feel the heat radiating from his son’s body.

It’s alright, son.  I’m here. Just hold on.” 

Johnny fought against the hold on him.  The more he pulled away, the tighter the grip became.  Finally, exhausted, he leaned back into the broad chest and listened to the voice trying to calm him—the overwhelming need to be held soon overshadowed his need to escape.  Johnny leaned back even closer.

Having realized he was not going to break loose; it was as if Johnny resigned himself to his fate. 

“Hot… so hot,” he coughed.  

Murdoch realized his son had stopped fighting and slumped back against him.  Johnny turned slightly and snuggled into his chest.  As he slowly rocked the boy in his arms, he heard a faint whisper, “Don’t let me go.”

“I won’t let you go, John.  Easy son.  I’m here.  Just relax.”  

“Sorry.” Murdoch heard his son saying in broken sentences. “My fault… never wanted to bring my past with me… should leave… can’t.”   Johnny’s head turned so that his cheek was against Murdoch’s chest. “Need you.  Need both of you. “

Murdoch kept rocking and wiping his son’s face with the towel he had dragged off the table behind him.

“I need you too, John.  You don’t know how much.  I love you, son.”

Scott rushed back up the stairs with a pitcher of water.  He got to the doorway and saw his brother being held and rocked.  He could tell Johnny had stopped fighting and had buried his face into Murdoch’s chest.

He heard his brother’s words and his father’s reply. He set the pitcher down and moved slowly into the room.  Kneeling next to his family, Scott put an arm around Murdoch’s shoulders.  He could see tears in the older man’s eyes.

Murdoch looked into his oldest son’s eyes. “Scott.  I love you, too, Son.”.

Johnny opened his eyes and realized he was in Murdoch’s arms.  There was a fleeting memory of being held by these same arms long ago.  It felt right, and he felt safe, safer than he’d been in many years. 

Murdoch glanced down to see his son’s blue eyes watching him.  “It’s alright, son.  Just rest now.”

“I thought I heard you say you loved me,” Johnny said, lowering his eyes.

“You did,” Murdoch replied.

Johnny looked back into his father’s eyes.  “I love you, too, both of you.  Thank you for finding me and bringing me home… Papa.”  He fought to keep his eyes open, but it was a losing battle.  He slowly closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. 

“Yes. Thank you for bringing me home, too…, Papa,” Scott mimicked his brother as he ran his fingers through the younger man’s hair.

Murdoch sighed.  It had been so easy to say he loved his sons.  He asked himself why he’d waited so long.  Why had it seemed so hard to do when it had been so easy?  The words had rolled off his tongue.  I…love… you.  Three simple words that bound them together.

“Do you want to move him back to the bed, Sir?” Scott asked softly. 

Murdoch looked at the face of his sleeping son.  It was the face of the little boy he’d lost all those years ago.  He looked at Scott and then the bed.

“I know we need to get him back, but it feels so good to hold him again after all these years.”

Smiling, Scott moved to sit next to his father on the floor.

“I doubt he would let you do that if he were awake.”  

“I’m sure you’re right,” Murdoch replied as he continued to rock his son.

“I guess we just won’t tell him then,” Scott grinned.

Murdoch ran his hand over his son’s damp face and smiled.  “I think his fever’s broken,” he said as he continued to rock the young man in his arms. 



Matt Wilson stood in front of the saloon and, for what seemed like the hundredth time, scanned the street.

“Surely, they should have been back by now.” 

That morning he’d sent four men to Lancer with the sole purpose of killing one man.  Now, he wondered where they were.

Wilson thought about his plan.  It had been well thought out and well financed.  He was sure it wouldn’t fail.

This won’t be a repeat of the Pardee fiasco. Pardee had been paid well, and still, he’d failed.  Of course, Pardee hadn’t counted on the two sons.  More importantly, he hadn’t counted on Madrid coming into the picture.

“I won’t fail. Not this time,” Wilson thought. “This time, it will work.”

The first part of his current plan involved hiring gunfighters to take Murdoch Lancer’s youngest son out of the equation.

Once he’d spread the word the target or, job as the gunfighters called it, was going to be Johnny Madrid, he didn’t have to wait long for gunmen to start contacting him.  The four men he chose were known as the best at their trade.  

Wilson knew that if the first three men failed, he still had his ace, Jake Benton.  Benton was known as the fastest gun in Texas.  He hadn’t believed his luck when Benton readily accepted the job.  He gladly hired the man and agreed to pay his price, which was three times what the others had been asking. 

The only drawback with Benton was he insisted on being paid in advance. Wilson had hesitated to pay upfront; however, after finding out more about Benton, he was confident he had made the right decision.  He felt his money had was well spent and had every confidence that the fastest gunhawk in Texas would eliminate Madrid. 

The second part of the plan was to be taken care of by his employer.  He wasn’t sure how that would be accomplished but was confident his employer would be successful.

The third and final part of the plan was Lancer itself.  Once Madrid was out of the way, and his employer gave him the go-ahead, Wilson would have no trouble moving on the ranch.  Yes, once Madrid was gone, he could hire as many men as necessary to take over Lancer, at last.

Wilson continued pacing.  Once again, he thought that the four men he’d sent to Lancer should have been back by now.  It was almost 2:00 in the afternoon.  He knew they were going to be at Lancer at 6:00 that morning. 

“How long did it take to kill just one man?” he wondered.


Val called a halt as the group neared Green River.  Turning in the saddle, he looked at the men behind him and started issuing orders. 

“Sam, you to go in ahead of us.”

Sam nodded his head.

“Cipriano, I want to make a show of this.  We string out single file.  I want a vaquero up front, in the middle, and at the end.  Be sure you have your hats on.  The horses with the bodies go in the middle.  Juan, you, Frank, Walt, and Joe lead those horses in.”

Sam moved his buggy ahead of the group.  He flipped the reins and led the way into town.  Sam’s office and the Undertaker were at the other end of town so everyone would get a view of the procession.

As they moved down the street, people started coming out of stores and businesses.

Matt Wilson watched as the doctor drove by.  He’d seen someone from Lancer come into town that morning and get both the Sheriff and the Doctor.   A smile spread across his face.  He was sure Johnny Madrid had needed the doctor’s services.

Wilson’s jaw dropped as he saw the Sheriff ride in next, followed by six of Lancer’s men.  Four of them led horses with bodies tied over them.  He recognized his four ‘so-called’ gunhawks as they passed.

He fell in with the crowd following the procession down the street.  He had to know what happened.

Val reined to a stop in front of the Undertaker.

“What happened, Sheriff?” someone yelled out from the crowd.  “We saw you ride out this morning with Sam and one of the Lancer vaqueros.”

Val turned in his saddle and looked out over the crowd.  He wanted to wait a moment before

answering.  He needed as many people present as possible before he started the show.

Stepping off his horse and onto the sidewalk, Val rubbed his chin.

“Well, if you can believe it, these four idiots rode out to Lancer this morning and called Johnny out.”

There was a quick murmur from the crowd. 

“Any of Lancer’s hands help?” someone else yelled out.

“No, Senor,” Cipriano quickly responded.   “Senor Johnny told everyone to stay out of it, and we did.”

“That’s right,” Frank spoke up.  “Believe me when Johnny says stay out of it, you stay out of it.”

A laugh was heard among the Lancer hands and some of those standing around. 

“That’s the truth,” Walt said, “Besides Johnny didn’t need no help.”

“No,” Val responded with a laugh, “Johnny took care of it himself.  It took him almost all morning before the last one decided he just wasn’t going to walk away.”           

“He didn’t take them all at once?” another voice shouted out.

“No, these fools wanted to take him on one at a time.  They were after his reputation.”

Val was milking it for all he could get.  “I got out there with Sam right after the 2nd gunfight.  These two were still standing, and those two were already spread out on the ground.  Johnny gave them a chance to ride away, but they just kept pushing their luck.”

“It looked like Senor Johnny was getting bored about that time,” Jose said, turning to Walt.

“You know, I think you’re right,” Walt joined in with a smile on his face.

“Who are they, Val?” someone else shouted out.

“Not sure about these two.  Cipriano, did they give any names?”

“Si, Senor Johnny made sure he had all their names so we would know what names to put on their headstones,” Cipriano responded.

The remark brought laughter from the crowd.

Val looked at the man with a grin on his face. “Well, I guess that was nice of Johnny to ask.  What were their names?”

“That one was named Jerry Gibbons.  He said he was from New Mexico.”  Cipriano pointed to the next body, still lying across his horse’s back.  “This one was called Joe Simpson and that one, Harry Lincoln, both from Arizona.

“That one came in last after the other three were dead,” Cipriano pointed to Benton.  “He said his name was…,” Cipriano thought for a moment, wanting to draw this out.  He’d heard of this man before and knew he was very famous in Texas.  “Oh, Si, he said his name was Jake Benton from Texas.”

“Jake Benton!” someone shouted out.  “He’s the fastest gun in Texas.”

“Not no more, he ain’t,” Val looked around.  “Johnny’s now the fastest gun in both Texas and California. 

Val waited for the murmurs to settle down.

“Well, let’s get these four inside.  I need a beer,” Val said, looking at Cipriano. “You boys want to go over to the saloon with me?” 

“Gracias, Sheriff Crawford.  I think the cantina is more to our liking.  Frank, Walt, and Joe can go with you if they wish,” Cipriano answered, knowing that going to the saloon would only cause trouble.  They didn’t like to serve Mexicans.

He remembered when Johnny had gone into the saloon that first time after coming home.  The bartender had refused to serve him.  They hated mix-breeds as much as they hated Mexicans.  Of course, now, no one refused Johnny.

“Was Johnny hurt?  Doc Jenkins was with you, Sheriff,” the concerned voice of a woman was heard.  The crowd grew quiet, waiting for the answer.

Matt Wilson stepped closer to the front of the crowd.

Val thought for a second and shook his head. “Not that I noticed.  Walt, you see anything?”

“Yeah, he caught a bullet on his left arm, but that was all.”   

“Looked like just a graze to me,” Frank added.   “Doc, you looked at it.  Did it look bad to you?”

All eyes fell on Sam.

“No, actually, I think he’s hurt himself worse shaving,” Sam laughed and turned to go into his house.  He closed his door and leaned against it.

“God, I hope that boy’s alright,” he prayed.


Val deposited the bodies with the Undertaker and took the horses to the livery stable.  He then walked to the saloon with Walt, Frank, and Joe.  The four of them sat at a table in the middle of the room with Val facing the door.

The bartender brought over four beers.  They each took a deep drink before setting the glasses down and looking at each other.

Val lowered his voice and spoke to Frank and Walt in hushed tones.  The entire time trying not to show concern on his face.  “How did he really look when you left him?” 

Walt could tell the worried tone to Val’s voice. “It’s like we said, Val.  Not good.  Not good at all.  That dumb fool stunt almost wiped him out.”

“He was burning up by the time we got him back to bed,” Frank added.

Both Frank and Walt put fake smiles on their faces and raised their glasses to each other.

They were quiet for several minutes.  Frank looked around the room, noticing several people were sitting close by and straining to listen to them. 

Frank looked at Val.  “Sheriff, have you ever seen anyone faster than Johnny?” his voice louder than before.

Silence fell in the saloon—eyes raised around the room.  Men leaned forward to hear the answer.

Val looked at Frank, realizing what he was doing.  He raised his voice so anyone listening could hear.

“No, can’t say I have,” Val responded truthfully after taking another drink of his beer.  “I’ve seen him in action for years, but today he was faster than ever.”

Joining in, Walt said, “You weren’t there for the first gunfight, Sheriff.  Johnny had his gun out and back in his holster before we even knew he’d drawn.  We never even saw him clear leather. It was like a blur.  All we heard was the sound of the shot.”

“Wish I could have seen that,” Val responded, sipping his beer.  “I can’t imagine what it was like before the 3rd one.”

“He never seemed to slow down.  They just kept coming.  One right after the other,” Joe said in all honesty.  “He kept telling them to step away.  He told them what was going to happen, but they wouldn’t listen.  They were so sure he was gonna slow down.”

“Well, they sure didn’t know Johnny, did they?” Frank laughed.  “You say that the last one was the fastest gun in Texas?”

“Yep,” Val answered.  “I meet Jake Benton a couple of times.  He had a real big reputation.  Guess Johnny took that reputation over now.”

“Did you hear what Benton asked Johnny… I mean, about how many notches he had?” Joe took a drink of his beer.

“Yeah, Johnny said he wasn’t keeping track,” Frank spoke up.

“How many do you figure, Val?”  

Walt saw the expression on Val’s face and was sorry he asked the moment he’d done it.  He knew Val was uncomfortable with the question.

Val stared at Walt.  He didn’t want to repeat this part of Johnny’s life to anyone who hadn’t already heard it that morning.  Finally, Val answered, “At least 33.  Probably more.”

Frank shook his head.  “And Johnny only eighteen years old.  He really is a legend, isn’t he?”

Val took a look around the room.  Yes, the whole place was listening.  Val knew that anything said here would-be all-over town by morning. 

“I wonder who hired those four?  It had to be someone with a lot of money to hire the best gunhawks around.  I sure hope we don’t have someone trying to make a grab for Lancer again.  That sure would be a mistake.  I can’t imagine any gunhawk hiring on to fight Lancer knowing Johnny Lancer was there.” 

“You mean Johnny Madrid, don’t you, Sheriff?” Frank stated.  He knew Mr. Lancer would hate him using the name Madrid, but it was Johnny Madrid, not Johnny Lancer, they’d seen in action that morning. 

He and Walt saw the transformation twice that day.  They’d watched Johnny go from Lancer to Madrid in the blink of an eye.   Once at the corral and then again when Johnny walked out of the house that afternoon.  He knew Johnny had relied on Madrid to survive.  He would never fault his friend for that.


At 5:00 that afternoon, Lancer’s hands rode into Green River at a gallop.  Murdoch had sent word to the saloons and cantina’s that the first drink for his men would be on Lancer.

Forty men rode in, every one of them carrying the story of what had happened that morning.  Every one of them telling anyone who would listen that Johnny was up and walking around.

One man sitting alone in the saloon listened to the stories the men were telling. 

“You mean to tell me that a rancher’s son, this Johnny Lancer, did all that this morning.  Sounds a little far-fetched,” the man stated as he took a drink of the whiskey in front of him.

The bar grew unusually quiet.  Lancer’s hands looked at the man as if he’d lost his mind.

One of the newer hands, Bud, looked over at the stranger.  “Mister, don’t you know who Johnny Lancer is?”

The man looked around the bar.  All eyes were on him. “No, I guess not.  I’m new to the area.  Who is this Johnny Lancer?”

Bud looked around at the men from Lancer.  A frown was on their faces.

Although Johnny didn’t keep his past a secret, talking about that past was taboo in the bunkhouse.  Bud had been drinking steadily since getting to the saloon and threw caution to the wind.  “You ever hear of Johnny Madrid?”

“Madrid,” the stranger said his eyes widening.  “You mean to say that it was Johnny Madrid at Lancer this morning?  So, Johnny Lancer is Johnny Madrid?”

He took another shot of the whiskey sitting in front of him. “I had no idea. What’s it like working with a man like that?  Aren’t you afraid of working with a cold-blooded killer?”

Heads snapped up around the room; all eyes on Bud. 

Bud’s head also came up in surprise.  He’d never considered Johnny a killer.  He looked around at his co-workers.  He could tell they weren’t happy about his revelation to the stranger. 

The stranger gulped and looked at the faces of those around him.  He could tell the men in the bar weren’t pleased with either him or Bud.

Bud sat for a few seconds, looking at his beer.  He knew he’d messed up.  Pushing back from the table, he stood and walked over to the stranger.

“Mister, I know there are always gonna be folks like you thinking that way about Johnny Madrid.  You asked how I could work with a killer like Madrid.  I’ll tell you something.  Johnny’s not a cold-blooded killer; he’s a good man.  Yes, he was a gunhawk and suppose still is when needed.  But Johnny would fight and die, if necessary, to protect his family and that ranch.  Hell, I know for a fact, he would do about anything to help any man in this room, even my sorry ass.     

“I’ve never seen him walk away from a fight.  He didn’t start what happened this morning, but by God, he sure as hell finished it.  A cold-blooded killer would have had it over within 10 minutes, not take over 2 hours to do it.

“What I saw this morning was a man who did everything he could do NOT to have to kill anyone.  Johnny tried to talk them out of going up against him.  He knew he could beat them and gave them every chance to walk away.  They wouldn’t listen, and they’re dead because of it.

“You gotta’ respect a man like that.”

Bud turned to go, then turned back. 

“No, mister, Johnny Lancer,” he made sure the word Lancer stood out, “ain’t no cold-blooded killer.  So that you know, we don’t just work with Johnny; we work for him.  He’s our boss, and I’m pretty damn proud of it.”

Bud picked up his hat and left the saloon.  

Cipriano, Juan, and Jose had come to the saloon to let the men know it was time to return to the ranch.  They stood at the batwing doors listening to Bud as he spoke.  There was a sense of pride in Bud as he finished and pushed past them.

The saloon was still silent.  Bud’s words weren’t lost on the men from Lancer or anyone else.

A smile formed on Walt’s face as he saw Cipriano standing in the doorway.

“I think I’m gonna head back to the ranch.”

Walt finished the beer he’d been nursing.

“I’ll go with you,” Frank said, turning away from the bar, following Walt out the door.

The noise level of the bar increased only slightly.  The men from Lancer started standing and leaving a few at a time.

The bartender listened to the exchange. He knew it wasn’t a secret that Johnny Lancer was Madrid, but it was also an unspoken policy that no one discussed it.  He had to admit he was right proud of Bud at that moment.

Matt Wilson had sat alone at a table all night listening to the events of that morning.  He merely shook his head at one point.  He couldn’t believe what he’d heard.  Madrid had never tired and had only received a minor injury. 

He wondered now how he was going to be able to hire enough men to go up against Madrid.  As he stood up to leave the saloon, he knew that, of course, he would.    


Once back at the ranch, Walt and Frank took their horses to the barn.  After bedding them down for the night, they started to the bunkhouse.  As they stepped out of the barn, they realized the lights were still on in Johnny’s room.

“Think we should go see if everything is alright?  It’s pretty late.  Figured they’d all be in bed by now,” Walt looked at Frank as they both stood outside the barn.

“Expect we better,” Frank responded, as he started walking toward the house.

The two concerned men knocked at the front door and waited.  It wasn’t long before the door opened.  A disheveled Scott stood before them, his shirttail out, and hair tousled, looking like he was ready to collapse from exhaustion. 

“Scott, we saw the lights on in Johnny’s room.  Everything alright?” Walt questioned.  “Figured he would be asleep by now.”

“Come in,” Scott stepping aside, letting Frank and Walt in.  “Actually, we could use your help.  Johnny’s fever spiked earlier, and we had trouble keeping him in bed.  Now he’s … well, come upstairs.”

They walked up the stairs and down the hall.  The men entered Johnny’s room to see Murdoch still sitting on the floor with his arms wrapped around his son.  The young man’s head was resting against his father’s chest.  The sheet covering him was stained with the same bright blood that was on the bandages around Johnny’s shoulder and waist.

Murdoch had been sitting so long his legs had gone to sleep and his back was shooting pain.

Scott walked to stand next to Murdoch and his brother.

“Once he was out of bed and on the floor, it became impossible to get him back into bed without hurting him,” Scott explained.

Walt put his hat down on the dresser, walked over to Murdoch, and knelt.  “Mr. Lancer, you want us to get him back to bed?”

A little embarrassed, Murdoch nodded.  “Yes, I would appreciate that.”

Frank got on one side of Johnny and Walt on the other, while Scott had his feet.  They easily lifted him away from Murdoch’s chest and laid him back onto the bed.  Johnny woke only slightly during the move.  

Scott covered his brother with a clean sheet and brushed the hair away from his forehead.   Johnny moaned, rolling his head to the side and seemed to drop off to sleep again.

Scott turned back to see Murdoch still sitting on the floor. 

“You can’t move, can you?” Scott smiled at his father.

Murdoch shook his head.

“No, not really,” he replied with a little grimace. 

“Walt, Frank, can you give me a hand?” Scott asked as he walked over to Murdoch.

The two men moved to stand on either side of Murdoch and lifted him off the floor in one fluid motion.  

Murdoch stood as straight as he could while holding his back.

“Thank you,” he groaned, “my back feels like it’s broken.”

“Any time, Mr. Lancer. Scott.” They smiled and started to leave.  “See you in the morning.  You need any help you let us know.”

“How did it go in town?” Scott inquired, stopping them at the doorway.

The two men stopped and turned back.

“Went real good,” Walt answered.  “You should have seen us going into town. Val had us strung out single file.  I think by the time we got to the Undertaker, every person in town was following us down the street.  Val told them about the gunfights and how they’d taken Johnny on one at a time.  People asked about the gunfights, the names of the men, and, of course, if Johnny was hurt.”

“Sam told everyone that Johnny was just nicked,” Frank quickly added, trying to reassure their Boss that no one knew how bad Johnny was hurt.

“There were some things said in the saloon later about… Johnny Madrid,” Frank said, lowering his head.  “Probably things a lot of people who don’t know Johnny have thought.”

“What kind of things, Frank?” Murdoch asked, his voice taking on a stern tone.

“Well, there was this fellow.  New in town.  He found out that Johnny was Madrid.  He made a remark about Madrid.  Wanted to know how we could …could work with a cold-blooded killer?” Frank answered.  He made sure he didn’t mention it was Bud, who told the stranger that Johnny was Madrid in the first place.

“Oh, I see,” Murdoch looked away.

“You would have been real proud of Bud, Mr. Lancer,” Walt jumped in.  “He told that stranger that Johnny Madrid wasn’t no cold-blooded killer.  He said that the man he knew was a good man who would do anything to protect his family, the ranch, and even us.”

“You should have heard him, Mr. Lancer,” Frank spoke up. “Bud told that man and everyone in the saloon that a cold-blooded killer would have had those gunfights over within 10 minutes this morning, not take close to 2 hours trying to give those fools time to walk away.”

“Mr. Lancer,” Walt looked Murdoch in the eyes, “Bud told that man that Johnny Lancer was no killer.  He also said that he didn’t just work with Johnny; he worked for him.  Said he was proud to have Johnny as his boss.”

Murdoch smiled at the men.  It was good to know the men felt the way they did about his son.  So much had happened he hadn’t thought about the events of that morning.  He remembered the hours passing and never once gave thought to why it had taken over 2 hours for Johnny to finish the last fight.  

He realized Bud had been right.  Johnny had drawn the events out himself.  He’d tried to give the gunhawks time to walk away.  He hadn’t wanted to kill those men.  Murdoch shuddered to think what those hours had cost his son.

Frank’s voice brought him back to the present. 

“It got real interesting when someone asked about the names of those gunhawks,” Frank continued smiling. “It seems that last fellow that rode in, the one Johnny knew.  Well, Jake Benton is… was real famous in Texas.”

“Really?” Scott remarked. “How so?”  Somehow already knowing the answer.

“Yeah,” Walt replied, watching Murdoch’s face, “it seems Benton was the fastest gun in Texas.”

Frank spoke up then, “Val said ‘not no more.’  He said Johnny was now the fastest gun in both Texas and California.”

Scott and Murdoch took a minute to let that sink in.  Together the four men slowly turned to look at the young face of the man sleeping in the bed.

“Damn,” Scott thought, “Life had just gotten a lot more complicated.”


It had been a long night.  Murdoch stood at the bedroom window, watching the sun rise over his land.

“No, not just his land, our land,” he thought. 

He stretched his sore back and turned to look at the sleeping figure in the bed behind him.  He smiled as he watched his son start to stir.  Johnny yawned, then sighed, and snuggled into his pillow, going back to sleep.

It reminded him of the little boy who had once slept in a crib in this very room.  The little boy who called him Papa.  The little boy who had once wrapped his arms around his father’s neck every night and fell asleep on his chest.

He remembered the morning he found Maria had left and taken the little boy with her.  A sudden sadness swept over him, thinking of all he had missed, of all of the lost years.

Lost now in his thoughts of the past, Murdoch remembered the years of searching for his son.     First, he’d gone to her family, knowing that she would have returned to them.  However, they hadn’t seen Maria or the boy. 

He’d spent almost a year searching border towns for his family.  Finally, defeated, he returned to Lancer and slowly started to rebuild his life.  He put all his energy into the ranch, trying to bury the pain in his heart.

Over the years, every spare dollar went into hiring Pinkerton agents to search for his wife and son.  Slowly, reports started coming in.  Finally, ten years ago, he’d received the news of Maria’s tragic death.  8-year-old Johnny, however, had disappeared, feared dead like his mother.

Murdoch never gave up and again hired the agents.  Finally, a report came to him saying his son had been found.  His little boy had been living in poverty for years.  More reports followed.  Reports that told of a half-Mexican child, with blue eyes, roaming the streets of the border towns.  The reports also painted a grim picture of how the lone boy had survived.  Anger rose up in Murdoch.  How could Maria have done this to their son? 

It was three years ago that the first report came telling him his son had turned to the gun.  His Johnny was the infamous gunfighter Johnny Madrid.   Murdoch had heard of Madrid.  Who hadn’t? 

The Pinkerton agents couldn’t tell him precisely when Johnny picked up a gun professionally.  They reported he had killed his first man in a gunfight at the age of 12.

Madrid was notorious for his speed with a gun, the burning of property, and the cold-blooded killing of men, women, and children.

Murdoch had been sickened by everything he read.

He’d been in Green River one day and had spotted several dime novels about Johnny Madrid. His heart sank as he read the titles.  Johnny Madrid: Border Hawk, Johnny Madrid: The Pistolero, Guns Along the Border, and, Johnny Madrid: Border Raider.  He bought one of the books and spent the night reading it.  When he finished, he had sat for hours, staring at nothing. 

He couldn’t accept his son; his baby boy could have done the things in the book.  Still, like so many other people, he believed what was written about Madrid.

Murdoch forced himself to stop reading the Pinkerton reports.  The reports still came, but it was Paul who read them.  One day Paul came to him and insisted that he also read the latest reports.

Reluctantly, Murdoch started reading.  What he read described a young pistolero who had become a legend.  Madrid was a pistolero who was known as a savior and hero to the poor people of Mexico.  Madrid helped village after village for little or no pay.  There were also reports of his injuries. His son had been knifed, beaten, whipped and shot on multiple occasions. 

He couldn’t understand how, in these reports, his son had gone from cold-blooded killer to savior.  The day came when he took the time to make the trip to San Francisco and talk to the lead Pinkerton agent.

It was then that he discovered the original agents involved hadn’t completely investigated the stories.  The agents had taken hearsay and reported the most terrible things attributed to Madrid.

He started comparing dates and events.  Madrid was supposed to have burned a ranch house in Tucson and also gunned a man down in Juarez on the same day.  Two days later, there was a report Madrid had killed three ranchers in Laredo.  It was on that same day Madrid was to have been in gunfights in both Abilene and Phoenix.  There was no way that Madrid could have done all the things that he reportedly had done.  

Murdoch found out that others did the majority of the things blamed on Madrid.  His son was a hired gun.  He had killed, but he hadn’t murdered in cold blood.

At a loss as to what to think, he finally decided to send Pinkerton agents to Mexico to find the young gunfighter and ask him to come home.  He was sure the offer of $1000 would be an added incentive.

It was then Day Pardee began his raids on the ranch.  Murdoch lost track of the Pinkerton’s efforts after Pardee killed Paul and wounded him.  Weeks passed before he heard of any progress.

Tracking down a famous gunfighter hadn’t been hard.  Murdoch finally received a report that a Pinkerton agent found Johnny in a Mexican prison, scheduled for execution.  The Agent arrived only moments before Johnny stepped in front of a firing squad.  

Murdoch’s chest constricted while reading that report. 

The day came when Johnny came home.  He fought Pardee and paid the price of 1/3 ownership in Lancer with a bullet in his back.  Once again, he had almost lost the boy.

Once Johnny’s wound healed, he became the partner Murdoch hoped he would be.  The boy took to the land as if he had been born to it, and, of course, he had.

It had been a struggle for Johnny to adjust.  In the beginning, he held so much anger.  Soon, the anger and rage was put to rest and seemed to be replaced by some measure of contentment. 

As much as Murdoch loved his son, John Lancer, he also feared for his son, Johnny Madrid.  He couldn’t say he hated Madrid without saying he hated Johnny himself.

Murdoch had slowly come to realize that Johnny was Madrid.  He would always be Madrid.  It was Madrid that kept Johnny Lancer alive and safe, and he would be forever grateful for that.

Johnny was like an eclipsing sun.  Light and dark rolled into one. Madrid was always below the surface of Johnny’s light.  Heaven help the man who caused that sun to eclipse into darkness.

He looked back out the window and over the yard to the corral.  The events of the day before came rushing back to him.  He went over the day again in his mind.  Murdoch took a deep breath and turned back to the bed.



It was Sunday morning, and Murdoch was tired, too tired to go to church; however, to church, he must go.  It was usual for Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa to attend church in Green River.  Johnny didn’t go with them, so no one would think anything of his absence.

Murdoch turned from the window when the door opened.  Teresa and Scott entered.  Scott moved to stand at the foot of the bed while Teresa moved to Johnny’s bedside. 

“Murdoch, we can’t leave him alone,” she quietly said.  “The fever is all but gone, but he still has me worried.”

Murdoch watched his son sleep.  He took a deep breath.  He didn’t want to leave Johnny this morning either but knew that if the family didn’t go to church, it would raise questions.  They still wanted the town to believe Johnny hadn’t wasn’t hurt during the gunfights.

“Scott, can you ask Cipriano to send someone to sit with your brother while we’re gone?”

Murdoch gently touched Johnny’s forehead.  Knowing there were six trusted people on the ranch, outside the family, was a relief.

Scott hurried outside.  Jose was bringing the buggy to the front of the house.

“Jose, would you ask Cipriano to come to the house when he can?”

“Si, Senor Scott, right away,” Jose nodded and went toward the bunkhouse.

A few minutes later, Scott saw Cipriano walking towards him.

“You needed me, Senor Scott?”

“Cipriano, the family is going to church.  We don’t want to break the routine.  Can you send someone to sit with Johnny while we’re gone?”

“Si,” Cipriano answered, “I know that neither Frank or Walt go to church.  I will ask one of them to come.”

“Have them come through the back of the house,” Scott added.

“Si,” Cipriano nodded and started to turn. “How is Juanito this morning?”

“He had a rough night,” Scott answered.  “He had a high fever that broke during the night.  He seems to be doing better now, and he’s sleeping.”

“Bueno, that is very good.” Cipriano turned away from Scott.

Ten minutes later, Murdoch heard footsteps in the hallway.  He looked up to see both Walt and Frank standing in the doorway.

“We didn’t need both of you.  I don’t want to ruin both of your days off.”

“Not ruining our day off, Mr. Lancer,” Walt answered. “We couldn’t think of a better or safer place to be than around Johnny.”

“That’s right, Mr. Lancer,” Frank jumped in. “Heck, you never know what’s going to happen next when you’re around Johnny.  Sometimes he’s like that box of dynamite that’s just sittings there nice and quiet like until someone lights the fuse.  When that dynamite goes off, you want to make sure you’re in the right place.  We figure being with Johnny is the right place.” 

“We ain’t going to let nothing happen to him, Mr. Lancer,” Walt assured. “You can count on us.  We’ll watch out for him.”

“Thank you,” Murdoch laughed. “Yes, I do think he is a little like dynamite, isn’t he?”

Walt and Frank both smiled. 

“Are you ready, Sir?” Scott asked from the doorway.  He’d heard what Frank and Walt said.  

“Dynamite.  A pretty good analogy of my little brother.” 

“Yes, I’ll be right down,” Murdoch answered.  He turned to look back at Johnny.  Walking over to the bed, he brushed his hand across the boy’s forehead one more time.

“Still a little fever, but nothing to worry about,” he thought.

Murdoch started to leave and then hesitated.  He turned back to the bed and lifted the sheet on the right side.  He gently removed Johnny’s gun from his hand and placed it back in the holster, hanging on the bedpost.

Murdoch smiled at Walt and Frank and then left the room, closing the door behind him.

The two ranch hands looked at each other and then at the gun.  They both swallowed hard and let out a deep breath.

Walt sat in the chair near the window and Frank pulled a chair up next to him.  They looked out over the yard and watched as the buggy pulled away from the house.  Others soon followed either going to the church in Green River or the Mission in Morro Coyo.

They turned back around, stretching their legs out, and leaned back in the chairs, expecting a quiet few hours until the family returned.

Frank was the first to notice Johnny was awake.  He reached over and punched Walt.  They both sat up in their chairs.

They found Johnny’s blue eyes looking at them and a grin on his face.  “Dynamite?”

“Well ….,” Frank started to say something and then thought he would just shut up. 

“You need something, Johnny?” Walt pushed up from the chair and moved to the bed.

“Water,” Johnny chocked out.

Frank reached for the pitcher and glass.  Filling the glass, he lifted Johnny’s head, letting him take a long drink.

Coughing slightly, Johnny waived the glass away.  “Thanks.”

He lay back and took a deep breath.  It hurt, but not as much as he expected. 

After a few minutes, Johnny asked, “How did things go in town?”

Frank and Walt repeated the story they had told Murdoch the night before.  When they got to the part about Bud, they hesitated.

Johnny remembered hearing bits and pieces the night before.

“I was kinda’ out of it last night, but remember hearing something about Bud and the saloon.” 

Frank and Walt dipped their heads.  “Well, Johnny, there was a stranger in town.  He said some things about Johnny Madrid.”

“What kinda’ … no, no need to tell me,” Johnny suddenly felt very tired.  He turned his head aside, looking away from the men.  The mask of Madrid covered his face.  “I thought Bud and I were getting along pretty good.  Guess I was wrong.”

“No, Johnny, you don’t understand,” Frank jumped in. “It was Bud who told that stranger off.”  He saw Madrid rising to block the hurt.

“The stranger was new to town.  He said … well, he said something about Johnny Madrid being a cold-blooded killer,” Walt faltered. 

Walt saw more of Madrid coming to the surface.  “Dynamite,” he thought.

Walt hurriedly continued, “Bud told the stranger that the man he knew was no cold-blooded killer.  He said that the man he knew was a good man.”

Frank was watching Johnny’s face and jumped in, “Bud said that if you’d been a cold-blooded killer, you wouldn’t have taken over 2 hours yesterday to take those four down.  You would have taken them all down in 10 minutes.  You took time, too much time, in my opinion, to try and talk them out of the fight.”

“Johnny,” Walt continued, “Bud said a lot more but, the last thing he said was that he was proud you were his boss.”

Johnnyjust nodded and turned his head to look away again, hiding the emotion in his eyes.  When he turned back, Madrid was gone.

Frank and Walt sat back down in their chairs.

“You alright, Johnny?”

“Fine, Walt,” Johnny answered. “Thank you for telling me.  I’m glad … well, glad Bud feels that way.”

“Not just him, Johnny,” Frank said, “all of us.   Well, there’s always going to be someone like that stranger, but you gotta lot of friends here that feel the same as Bud.”   

“Well, damn,” Johnny thought.”       

“How are things out there?” Johnny nodded toward the window.

“Good, I guess,” Frank answered. “Been quiet this morning.  It always is on Sunday morning. There isn’t any sign of trouble.”

“Some of the hands were asking about you this morning,” Walt said.  “They asked if we’d seen you?”

“I told them you were probably sleeping in, being tired out after all the ‘work’ you did yesterday,” Frank laughed.

Johnny didn’t say anything.  They could tell he was thinking.

“What time is it, Frank?” Johnny tried to reposition himself in the bed.

“Around 9:00, I’d guess,” Frank cautiously answered. “Why?”

“Murdoch and the family will get back around 12:30.   How many hands do you figure will be hanging around in about an hour?” Johnny asked.

“Not sure,” Frank frowned.  “Johnny, why do you want to know what time it is?”

“Fellows, I need to rest right now.  Wake me, if I’m sleeping, in about an hour.  I’m going to have to be seen again today.  I figure I can sit out front until the family gets home.”

Johnny laid his head down.

A look of panic swept over Walt’s face as he stood up.

“Johnny, you know the Boss is gonna kill us if we let you do that.”

Johnny just looked at him, and a small smile came across his face. “Let me?  Walt, you want to set that dynamite off?”  The smile left his face.

Damn,” Frank thought.

Frank and Walt watched as Johnny closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  He relaxed and soon dropped off to sleep.

An hour later, Frank looked at Walt.  “Well?”

“Frank, we can’t do it.  The Boss trusts us to keep him safe.  We let him go down like he did yesterday and Mr. Lancer will never trust us again.”

“We don’t wake him like he said, then we got Johnny mad at us.  So, which one are you afraid of the most?  Johnny or Mr. Lancer?” Frank asked.

The looked at each other and then at the peacefully sleeping man in the bed.  Who were they afraid of the most?  Then they both said at the same time, “Johnny.”

“Alright,” Frank stood up, “we do as Johnny says, but one of us has to tell Mr. Lancer before he comes back and sees Johnny out front.”

“Agreed,” Walt nodded.

“Better wake him up,” Frank moved to the bed and gently touched Johnny’s shoulder.

Johnny opened his eyes with a start.  Reaching for his gun, he found it wasn’t there.  He remembered Murdoch taking it from his hand before leaving.

“Guess he didn’t want me shooting someone while he was gone.”   

Walt noted that Johnny had reached for where his gun should have been.

“Johnny, it’s a little after 10:00.  You said to wake you.”

Johnny closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  Opening them again, he looked at Walt and nodded.

“Alright, help me up.  I need to get dressed.”

“Johnny, you sure about this?” Frank said.  “The Boss trusts us, and we don’t want him mad at us.”

“Don’t worry.  I’ll take care of Murdoch.”

Johnny threw the covers back and made his way to the side of the bed.

It took less time to get him dressed than it had the day before.  Once they got to the shirt, both Frank and Walt hesitated.

Walt stood at the dresser, looking at the shirts in the top drawer.

“Which shirt, Johnny?”

Johnny smiled and dipped his head. “The blue one will do.”

They helped Johnny stand.  He swayed as Frank took hold of him. 

“Just give me a second,” Johnny said, waiting for the dizziness to pass. 

Walt took Johnny’s holster from the bedpost and handed it to him. 

As they had done the day before, Walt on one side and Frank on the other, they helped him down the stairs and to the front door.

Johnny stopped and leaned against the wall.

“You know, now that I think about it, this probably wasn’t a real good idea,” he said, fighting back the pain.

“Johnny, let’s get you back to bed.  Please,” Frank pleaded, reaching for Johnny.

“No, … I can do this,” Johnny said, taking a deep breath.  “Once I’m outside, I’ll sit down.  You two go out the back way and circle around to the front of the house.”   Johnny took another deep breath fighting back pain and nausea.

“Walt, can you see if Joe can go to town for me and ask Sam to come to Sunday dinner.”  Johnny took a deep breath and hesitated, “Hell, might as well ask Val to come, too.”

“Johnny?” the alarm in Walt’s voice was evident.

“It’s alright, Walt.  I just pulled some of the stitches in my side,” Johnny was still fighting down the pain, “and my shoulder.”  He could feel a trickle of blood at his side.  “Hand me that sling.”

“Johnny,” Frank pleaded.

“It’s fine, Frank.  I’ve had worse,” Johnny replied in a firmer voice.

I’ve heard that before,” Frank thought.

Walt helped Johnny put the sling on his left arm.  He could see beads of sweat popping up on Johnny’s face. 

Johnny wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, took a deep breath, pulled himself up straight, took his hat from the rack, and pulled the door open.  He walked outside as if nothing was wrong with him. 

Johnny walked to the edge of the veranda, waving at a few of the hands sitting outside the bunkhouses.

Walt and Frank went out the back of the house and around to the front, walking past Johnny.

“How you doing today, Johnny?” Frank waved.

“Doing good, Frank,” Johnny sat down and stretched his legs out in front of him.  “Slept in this morning.  Did you two go into town last night?”

“Sure did.  The Boss was buying but wasn’t no fun without you there,” Walt laughed.  “Didn’t even get a poker game going.”

“Well, we’ll go next Saturday night for sure,” Johnny smiled.  

“See you later, Johnny.” Walt kept walking.

Walt and Frank walked to the corral and looked back toward the house.  Johnny showed no signs of distress.

“Ok, so which one of us is going out to tell the Boss?” Frank asked as he kicked the ground in front of him with the toe of his boot.

“I’ll go,” Walt volunteered.  “You stay close and watch him.  Oh, better send Joe to town to invite Sam and Val to come to dinner.”

Walt saddled his horse and rode out toward Green River.  He wasn’t looking forward to facing Murdoch.

He was about 30 minutes from the ranch house when he saw the buggy coming toward him.  He could see Murdoch Lancer’s face changing colors.  Walt stopped and shook his head.

“Lord, give me strength,” he said aloud as the buggy came to a stop in the middle of the road.


Walt eased toward the stopped buggy.

“This can’t be good,” Scott groaned, stepping out of the buggy.

“Walt, what’s wrong?  Johnny…?” Murdoch started.

“No, Mr. Lancer, Johnny’s fine.  Well, it’s like this, Mr. Lancer…,” Walt hesitated.

“Spit it out, Walt,” Scott took a step forward.

“Johnny figured he needed to show himself again today…”

Walt had only gotten that much out before Murdoch stood up in the buggy and started yelling.

“Are you telling me that YOU allowed my son to get dressed and walk outside again,” Murdoch’s voice had gone up several octaves, causing the horses to move nervously.

“Mister Lancer, it wasn’t so much me… us allowing Johnny to go outside.  Well, it’s more like Johnny told us he was gonna go outside and well…” Walt stopped, lowering his head.

“So, it came down to who you were more afraid of?” Scott smiled.  “Is that how it was, Walt?”

Walt didn’t answer.  He didn’t have to. 

“Is he alright, Walt?” Scott asked.

“He was doing alright when I left.  He’s sitting out front on the veranda.” Walt kept watching Murdoch.  “Frank is keeping an eye on him.”

“Damn fool thing to do,” Murdoch was still yelling, shaking his head.  He then lowered his voice and sat down.  “I’m sorry you and Frank have were placed in this position, Walt.  I also know it wasn’t your fault.  Go on back to the ranch.  We’ll be along in a little while.  I’d appreciate it if you and Frank could go back into the house through the back way.  I’m sure we’re going to need your help getting my son back to bed …. again.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Lancer.”  Walt started to rein the horse around.  “Oh, Mr. Lancer, there’s one more thing.”

“What?” Murdoch’s voice raised again.

“Johnny wanted us to send Joe to town to ask Sam and Val to come to Sunday dinner,” Walt answered.

“Walt, can you tell me why my brother asked to have Sam for Sunday dinner?” Scott asked.

“Well, he kinda pulled some stitches loose,” Walt answered quickly, flinching slightly.

Scott just shook his head.  “Unbelievable.”   


Walt quickly rode back to the ranch.   After putting his horse away, he walked over to stand next to Frank at the corral. They both watched Johnny sitting in front of the house.

“Well?” Walt looked toward Johnny.

“Nothing,” Frank answered. “He’s just sitting there.  He waved to a few of the boys.  Some went up to talk to him.  Doesn’t look like he’s having any problems.  Looked like he was dozing off a few minutes ago.  How’d the Boss take the news?”

Walt looked down and scraped his boot against the ground.  “It’s like this, Frank; it wasn’t pretty.  Are you sure you didn’t hear him yelling from here?”

Frank laughed. 

Walt squinted, trying to get a closer look at Johnny.

“I’m going to go over and talk to him.  Mr. Lancer said for us to head back into the house.  They should be home in about 20 minutes.  The Boss figures they’re gonna need help getting Johnny back to bed.”

Frank nodded.  He pushed himself off the corral and started around the house. 

Walt slowly walked to the front of the house.  Johnny looked up as Walt got closer to him.  When he spoke, Walt thought he sounded tired, “Walt, saw you ride out.  Figure you went to tell the old man I was out here.”

Walt nodded. “I did.  Didn’t want him riding in here and start yelling.  Figured he needed some warning.”

“Sounds about right.” Johnny gave a weak smile but kept his head down.

“You doing alright?” Walt was trying to see Johnny’s face.

Johnny hesitated, “To tell the truth, Walt … I’d about give anything right now to lay down and sleep for a week.”

He raised his head and looked at Walt.

Walt could see the glassy look to Johnny’s eyes. “You got a fever?”

Johnny exhaled and tilted his head.

“Yeah,” he answered, licking his lips.

“Need some water?”

Johnny smiled.

“Sure would like something to drink.  Why don’t you get us some lemonade?  I bet Maria made some this morning.”

“Be right back,” Walt stood and walked into the house.  He saw Frank making his way in through the kitchen.

“Well?” Frank stood to the side of the French doors trying to see Johnny.

Walt just shook his head.

Walt came back from the kitchen a few minutes later with three glasses of lemonade. He handed one to Frank and then went back out to the veranda.  Walt put a drink in Johnny’s shaking hand and sat back down.  

Walt took a sip and watched Johnny down almost half his glass at one time.

Johnny almost spilled the rest of his drink when he started to cough.  Sitting the glass down, it took a few minutes before he finally got control over his breathing.  When he leaned back, Walt saw a red stain on the front of his friend’s shirt.  

“You’re bleeding.” Walt leaned forward, alarmed.

“I know,” Johnny replied, taking a few short breaths and drew his left arm closer to his side.  He quickly readjusted the sling and used it as a shield to partially block Walt’s view of the bloodstain.

It wasn’t long before a buggy came down the road and under the arch.  Murdoch, Scott, and Teresa were all smiles as they stopped in front of the house.  Two ranch hands walked up to take charge of the buggy.

“Johnny, one of these days, you’re going to have to go to church with us,” Teresa said, smiling as Scott helped her from the buggy.

“Yeah, maybe someday,” Johnny answered with a weak smile.

Scott turned to look at his brother. 

“We saw Sam and Val in town and invited them to dinner.”

Johnny glanced sideways at Walt.

“Well, … I’d better be going.”  Walt quickly stood up.  “See you later, Johnny.  Miss Teresa, Mr. Lancer, Scott,” he said, tipping his hat.

Walt walked away and then cut back to the rear of the house.  He came in through the back and quickly walked to the front door to stand next to Frank.

“He’s bleeding,” Walt told Frank.

“Boss is gonna kill us,” Frank whispered, shaking his head.  “Gonna kill us for sure.”  

Murdoch walked over to Johnny.

“Well, we’d better get ready for lunch.  Since Sam and Val are coming for dinner tonight, we’ll keep it light.  Teresa said she would make some sandwiches.”

Murdoch looked up as the hands led the buggy away.  He turned back to Johnny.

“Well, young man, I suppose you have accomplished what you set out to do?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Johnny answered, absent-mindedly rubbing the side of his nose with his right hand.  “I’ve been out here for almost two hours.  Most of the hands have seen me.  A few came over to talk.”

“Are you ready to go in?” Scott asked, noting the blood on Johnny’s shirt.

“Yeah, I’m ready,” Johnny answered, lowering his head and, at the same time, moving his left arm.

Murdoch looked down and grimaced when he saw the blood.

Johnny looked up at his father, seeing the concern on his face.  He looked down at the blood on his shirt then back at Murdoch again.  Johnny cocked his head slightly.  

“It’s alright, old man.  Just give me a minute, and I’ll be in.”

Murdoch walked into the house and ran straight into Walt and Frank.  He looked at both of them and shook his head, lost for words.

Scott leaned against the side of the house, watching Johnny.  “Are you going to be able to get up?”

“Not sure. Boston,” Johnny answered, looking up at him.  “Just give me a minute.”

Johnny pulled his hat down over his eyes and leaned his head back.

Several minutes later, Johnny hadn’t moved.  Scott sat down in the chair next to his brother.  He realized Johnny was either asleep or unconscious. 

“Johnny?” Scott finally spoke up.  Still, there was nothing.  “Johnny, you need to wake up.”  He looked around to make sure no one was paying any attention to them.

Minutes passed, while Murdoch, Teresa, Walt, and Frank waited inside.    

Murdoch was getting impatient.

“Teresa, go out there and see what’s taking them so long.”

She nodded and walked outside.

“Well, are you two ready for something to eat?” Teresa stepped out of the doorway.  She took one look at Johnny and started to panic.  “Scott, what’s wrong?” she asked as she moved to stand in front of Johnny, blocking him from anyone that might have been watching in the yard.

“I can’t wake him up,” Scott answered.  He looked around to make sure no one was watching them.  “Keep standing there.”  Reaching over, Scott gently shook Johnny’s shoulder.   “Johnny, you’ve got to wake up.”

Johnny’s head rolled toward Scott, and his eyes opened.

“Scott,” a raspy voice responded.

“Time to go inside.”

“Alright,” Johnny replied, seeing Teresa for the first time.

Scott motioned for Teresa to go back in.

Teresa hurried back inside with one more quick glance at Johnny.

“Well?” Murdoch asked as soon as Teresa came through the door.

“Oh, Murdoch,” Teresa answered, putting her hands to her throat, “he fell asleep.  Scott couldn’t wake him.  He’s awake now, and they’re coming in.”

Johnny pushed his hat back.  Looking at Scott and cleared his throat, “Well, better give this a try.”

Johnny pulled his outstretched legs toward him and put his right hand on the arm of the chair.  Lowering his head, he took a deep breath steeling himself against the pain he knew was coming. Slowly raising his head, he pushed off the chair.  In one fluid motion, he stood and took a step forward, catching his breath. 

Scott saw Johnny’s pale face turn white and then to ashen gray.  Tears pooled in his brother’s dark blue eyes.

Scott realized Johnny had been holding his breath.  He stared at the front of Johnny’s blue shirt and watched as a bright red stain started to spread.

Johnny closed his eyes and took several short breaths.  He smiled at Scott and then walked past him into the house, coming face to face with Murdoch.

“Well, I think I’ll go back to bed,” Johnny said as he walked to the stairs.  He stopped, holding onto the railing.

Scott moved up beside him.  “You want help getting up there?  We can do it like we did yesterday.”

Johnny looked at him and smiled. “To tell the truth, Boston, I don’t remember how we did it yesterday.”

Scott turned, looking back toward the two men standing behind him.

“Walt and Frank carried you up.”

Johnny looked at the two ranch hands.  “Sorry you two have gotten roped into this.”

“We don’t mind, Johnny,” Walt laughed. “You aren’t that heavy when there are two of us.”

Johnny laughed.  “Well, hopefully, I can get up there with a little more dignity than yesterday.”

“I doubt it,” Scott smiled. “You look like you’re ready to fall over right now.”

“Getting there,” Johnny answered, leaning more on the rails. 

Murdoch’s loud, sharp voice rang out, making everyone jump. “Well, get it done, boy.”

Johnny’s head shot up, and for a brief moment, anger rose in him.  He then realized his father’s patience with him had come to an end.

“Can’t blame the old man.”

Johnny looked at Walt and Frank and nodded.  Walt took the right side, and Frank the left.  Each put an arm around Johnny, helping him take one step at a time.  They had almost reached the top when Johnny’s head suddenly dipped down, and he collapsed between them.  Together they picked him up, carrying his limp body the rest of the way.

Scott followed them to Johnny’s room and pulled the bed covers back so that Frank and Walt could lay their burden on the bed. 

Scott pulled off his brother’s boots and then unbuttoned his pants.  He pulled them down while Frank and Walt lifted Johnny’s hips. 

Once they’d removed Johnny’s shirt, it was evident the bandage on his side was saturated with blood.

Scott lifted the edge of the bandage.  The stitches had pulled loose, and the wound was bleeding freely.  Scott pressed the dressing back, trying to stem the flow of blood.

“He’s ripped the stitches out,” Scott stated.

“What do you need us to do?”

“Walt, can you go get some more bandages from Teresa.  I’ll see if I can stop the bleeding,” Scott answered while continuing the pressure.  “Frank, can you bring me the washbasin with some water in it?”

Walt turned to leave the room and found Murdoch standing in the doorway. Walt stepped around his Boss and went to get Teresa.  Murdoch didn’t say anything; he just watched as Scott continued to apply pressure to the wound. 

Scott looked around to see his father standing motionless.  Murdoch hadn’t said anything to his oldest son; he just watched the pale face of his youngest.

Frank took the washbasin to Scott, then stood to the side and watched both Scott and Murdoch.  Knowing there was nothing he could say or do, he tried to melt into the wall.

Walt returned with the bandages and laid them on the bed.

Scott took the bloodied bandages off and put a new one on, wrapping it tightly around Johnny’s waist.

“I’ve done all I can do until Sam gets here,” Scott finally said and sat back, taking a deep breath.

Scott looked up to see Frank and Walt still standing against the wall.  He nodded at them.

“Thank you.  Why don’t you go back to the bunkhouse and try to relax for the rest of the day? The way things are going, we’ll probably need your help again later.”

Neither man said anything as they filed out of the room.

Murdoch moved to the chair next to Johnny’s bed.  He was too tired to say anything.  He was too tired to do anything but put his head in his hands and rub his face.

“What was he thinking?” Murdoch asked aloud.  “This charade is going to cost him his life.”

Scott was worried about his father.

“Sir, I know you’re tired.  Why don’t you go lay down for a while?  I’ll call you if I need you.” 

Murdoch nodded and pushed himself from the chair.  He took his hand and brushed the hair from Johnny’s forehead.  “He needs a haircut,” he said aloud before leaving and going to his room.

Murdoch collapsed on his bed, buried his head in his pillow, and was asleep in moments.

It wasn’t long before Teresa came into Johnny’s room with sandwiches and lemonade.

“How is he, Scott?”

“Bleeding,” Scott answered, sounding exhausted.  “I think I got it stopped, but Sam is going to have to put stitches back again.”

“Eat something,” she handed a sandwich to Scott.  “Where did Murdoch go?”

“He’s laying down,” Scott answered.  He didn’t have to say anymore.

She knew Murdoch was exhausted.  With everything that happened yesterday and the trip to church today, she was feeling the need to lay down as well.

“I’m going to lay down for a while,” she said.  “If you need help, come get me.”

Scott nodded.  He watched Teresa walk out and took a bite of the sandwich.  Slowly eating, his eyes never left his brother’s face.  

“Yes,” he thought, “we all need some rest.”

After finishing his sandwich, Scott stretched his legs out and leaned back in the chair.  He closed his eyes, thinking he would rest them.  Soon, he was asleep as well.


Johnny moaned and slowly opened his eyes.  Scott was sitting by his bed, sleeping with his head on his chest.  Johnny looked down at his side and saw the blood-soaked bandage.

He doubted he was going to be able to continue to convince anyone he wasn’t wounded.  He couldn’t repeat the last two days of getting up and going outside.

At that moment, the loss of blood and shock of the last two days took over.  Closing his eyes, Johnny let the darkness take him.


When Sam and Val arrived for dinner later that afternoon, they were meet by Frank. 

“Doc, you need to get in there quick.” Frank took the reins of Val’s horse.  “He was bleeding real bad the last time I saw him.”

Sam stepped out of the buggy and took his medical bag.  He and Val walked into the house.  There was no one downstairs to meet them.  They hurried up the stairs and almost ran to Johnny’s room.  They found Scott still asleep.  Their eyes fell on Johnny. 

“Scott,” Sam shook Scott’s shoulder, “what happened to your brother?”

Scott roused and looked at Sam.  He stretched and yawned.

“He got up while we were at church and went outside again.  He tore his stitches loose.  I put a pressure bandage on to stop the bleeding.  He’s asleep.”

Sam leaned over the bed and examined his patient.

“He’s unconscious Scott, not asleep,” Sam stated as he started cutting the bandages off the open wound. “How long has he been bleeding?”    

“We got home at around 12:30. Johnny was sitting out front on the veranda.  I didn’t know how bad he was bleeding then, but there was blood on his shirt.  I saw he’d torn his stitches out after we got him back in bed.  I put on a pressure bandage.  Sam, I thought the bleeding had stopped.”

Scott moved to Johnny’s side.  He reached for his brother’s hand. 

Sam pushed Scott away and opened his medical bag.

“You and Val go downstairs.  I’ll take care of this.”

“Sam?” Val asked as he took hold of Scott’s arm. 

“Go on downstairs, the both of you,” Sam grumbled.  “Let me work.”

Val pulled Scott from the room and closed the door.

“Val, I didn’t know he was still bleeding.” Scott reached for the doorknob.

“Come on, Scott.  Let the Doc work.”

Val pushed Scott down the hallway.  He looked back over his shoulder at the closed door before reluctantly walking away.

Sam pulled back the bandage and noted the bleeding had almost stopped.  He proceeded to re-stitch the wound.  After re-bandaging Johnny’s side, he turned his attention to the shoulder wound.   It looked like it had fared better with only two stitches torn out.  Sam re-stitched the shoulder wound and changed the bandage.

Once he finished, Sam sat back, taking a deep breath. His next act was to head downstairs to talk with Scott.

“Where’s your father?”

“Murdoch’s exhausted.  He went to lie down after we got home,” Scott answered.  “Sam, I’m worried about him.  I’m not sure how much more of this he can take.”

“How about you, Scott?  You look exhausted, too.”

“I am both physically and emotionally drained.” Scott walked to the drink cart and poured a drink.  “There were a lot of revelations yesterday.  I think I learned more about my brother, good and bad, in those 2 hours than I have in the four months we’ve been home.”

Sam simply nodded.  Val stood next to the fireplace.  They all looked up to see Murdoch coming down the stairs.  

“Sam, Val, good to see you.  Thank you for coming,” Murdoch shook the two men’s hands.  “Sam, have you seen Johnny?”

“Yes, I just finished re-stitching his side and shoulder.  I left Teresa with him.  He’s lost more blood,” Sam stated.

Murdoch poured himself a drink and sat down.

“Sam, I don’t know what to do.  When we got home from church and found him sitting outside, I felt helpless.  I can’t protect him because if he won’t let me.”

“Murdoch, I know how you and Scott feel,” Sam said.  “I also know why Johnny is pushing himself right now.”

“He’s pushing himself too hard,” Scott jumped in. 

“He knows that,” Val’s voice raised.  “He also knows that there’s a lot at stake.”

“Val, what would happen if people found out he’s wounded?” Murdoch asked, looking up at the Sheriff.

“Mr. Lancer, first every gunhawk in the state would be on your doorstep.  Every one of them wanting to call out Madrid.  The way he is right now, he couldn’t even take on a kitten.”  Val took a sip of his drink.  “The next thing that would happen is what happened when Pardee showed up.  You were close to losing this ranch then.  There ain’t no doubt that without Johnny, you would lose it next time.”

Scott felt a hint of indignity.  He wondered if Val knew how much a role he’d played in Pardee’s defeat.  Johnny hadn’t been the only one to fight for Lancer. It was Scott’s bullet that killed Pardee.  Still, he had to admit that if Johnny hadn’t led Pardee and his men in the trap, it would have been harder to win the battle. 

“Are you saying that everything hinges on Johnny?” Scott stood up. “Johnny is holding the wolves at bay, so to speak.”

“Wolves, bears, mountain lions,” Val waved his arm.  “It’s that boy upstairs that’s going to pull all your irons out of the fire.  Mr. Lancer, you’re trying to protect Johnny.  Johnny wants to protect you.  If you both keep this up, both of you are going to be dead.  One of you has to let the other take over.  You may not want to admit it, but Johnny knows what he’s doing, well, most of the time.  Let him make the decisions this time.”

“Val, Johnny cannot physically do again what he did yesterday and today,” Sam declared.  “He lost so much blood today I thought at first, he might not make it.  He was unconscious when I got here and still is.  He also has a fever starting again.”

Murdoch jumped up. “Sam, you didn’t tell me he was that bad.  I need to go up. “

“Murdoch, neither you or Scott is in any condition to sit with Johnny. I’m staying here tonight.  Val, can you stay, or do you have to get back to town?”

“I can stay.  I left my deputy in charge.”  Val sat down.  “What about the hands that know what’s going on?”

“Walt and Frank were with him most of the day,” Scott said.  “We can talk to Cipriano tomorrow to see who he can spare.  I’m going to have to go out with the work crews.  I’ll tell anyone who asks that Murdoch has Johnny working on the books.”

“Sam, have you any idea when Johnny will be able to get out of bed or when he can ride?” Val asked.

“Ride?” Sam looked at Val, wondering if they were both in the same room earlier.  “Val, you did see him upstairs earlier.  Riding is out of the question for some time.  I do know he has to stay in bed for at least a week for the wound in his side to start to heal.”

“Sam, you know that if no one sees Johnny for a week, we’re going to have problems,” Val stated.

“It can’t be helped.  If any of you are expecting that boy to be able to stand on his feet, let alone ride anytime soon, he has got to stay in bed,” Sam firmly declared.


Val went to the barn to bed down his horse.  He saw Walt and Frank standing near the corral.  Frank took Val’s horse, and Walt took care of Sam’s horse. 

Val waited for them to come out of the barn.

“I understand you two were watching Johnny this morning while the family went to church.” Val crossed his arms and leaned against the barn.  “Why’d you let him talk you into that fool stunt?”

“Val, we didn’t have a choice… well, much of one.  Johnny told us what he wanted to do.  We tried to talk him out of it, but we didn’t think it was a good idea to get him upset at us, either,” Frank answered.

“Weren’t you afraid of getting old man Lancer mad at you?” Val asked.

“Not as much as Johnny,” Walt blurted out. 

“That boy has you both buffaloed, don’t he?” Val shook his head and laughed. 

Walt and Frank just nodded. 


Dinner that night was quiet.  Teresa watched Johnny while everyone else ate.  Shortly after they finished eating, both Scott and Murdoch went to their rooms. 

“Sam, I’ll take the first shift if you want.  We might need you later on tonight.”

Val sat down in the chair near the window. 

Sam looked at Johnny, who had gone from being unconscious to sleeping.  He felt his pulse, which was not quite as strong as he would have liked but better than the afternoon.   Johnny’s heart rate was also a little fast.  There was a slight fever, but nothing to worry about, yet.

“Thank you, Val.  If you see any sign of bleeding or if his fever spikes, come get me.”

Val stretched his legs out.  He looked over at Johnny and then out the window.

“Boy, trouble follows you around like bees to honey.” Val shook his head. “Always has.”

Val thought about the day before.  He honestly had never seen anything like it.  If Lincoln hadn’t wounded Johnny, he knew the boy would have taken Benton down clean.  The 4th gunfight had left Val amazed.  Jake Benton was the fastest gun he had ever seen … until yesterday.  Even with being wounded and tired beyond belief, Johnny had outdrawn the man.


It was a little after 1:00 in the morning when Johnny started to stir.  Val was dozing when he heard a slight moan.  He sat up, but Johnny was still.  Val began to settle again when he heard the moan again and then a sharp gasp.

He took a cloth and soaked it in the water beside the bed and placed it on Johnny’s forehead.  The dark-haired man responded by rolling his head from side to side.  Finally, Val saw blue eyes under long dark lashes. 

“Johnny, you still with me?”

“Val, what are you doing here?” Johnny asked in a rasping voice.

“Someone had to watch out for you.  Your Pa and brother are plain worn out,” Val answered.

He took the wet cloth off his friend’s forehead and re-wet it.

“I’m not going to be able to go outside again,” Johnny stated in a weak voice.  “Thought I was going to bleed to death today.”

Val nodded.  “I know. You’re killing yourself, and that is going to kill your Pa. We gotta’ think of something else.”

“Can I have some water?” Johnny’s throat was so dry it felt like it was closing up.  Val filled a glass and lifted it to Johnny’s lips.  Johnny started to gulp.

“Slow down. You’ll make yourself sick.”  Val took the glass away.

“Val, tomorrow I need to talk to Murdoch and Scott.  We need a new plan.  I’d like to have Cipriano and the others there, too.”  Johnny lay back.  “Maybe between all of us we can come up with some way for this to work.”

“Go back to sleep.” Val put his hand on his friend’s forehead.  He could still feel the heat radiating from him.  “You need something for pain?”

“Don’t need anything for pain,” Johnny answered with a little gasp.  The burning in his side shot a wave of pain through him.

“Yeah, I can see that.”

Val watched as pain etched itself on the young face.

“I’m going to try to sleep.” Johnny closed his eyes.

Val touched Johnny’s forehead with the back of his hand again.  Johnny’s eyes flew open.

“Just checking to see if you have a fever,” Val said.  “It’s still high, but I think it’s down some.”

“Val, my gun.” Johnny’s right hand searched the bed beside him.

Val reached up to the bedpost and slipped the Colt from its holster, then put it in Johnny’s hand.

Johnny grasped the gun, closed his eyes, and exhaled. “Thanks.”

Val nodded and watched his friend take a deep breath and again drop off to sleep.  He leaned back in his chair and watched the rise and fall of the boy’s chest.  He’d lost track of the number of times he’d done this same thing over the years.  He knew one thing for a fact, there had been too much pain in Johnny’s young life, and the boy had way too many scars – both inside and out.

Sam took over for Val an hour later.  

“He woke up about an hour ago,” Val stood and stretched.  “I asked him if he wanted anything for pain.  He turned it down.”

“No surprise there.” Sam studied his patient.

“Johnny wants to have a meeting in the morning.  Hoping someone can come up with another plan.” Val moved to leave the room. “So you know, Johnny’s gun is in his right hand.”

“Thank you for that information,” Sam nodded and smiled. “I hope we can work something out, Val.  His body can’t take much more.”

Val went to his room and collapsed, asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Sam checked Johnny and was pleased that he seemed to be doing better.   He then took the chair Val had been using and immediately dozed off.


Monday morning came all too soon for everyone.  The events of the weekend had drained them all.

Teresa and Maria fixed breakfast, while Scott and Murdoch prepared for a typical day at the ranch.   Val and Sam joined them at the kitchen table.

“Johnny’s sleeping,” Sam reported. “He only woke up once last night.”

“Thank goodness,” Murdoch replied as he handed Sam a cup of coffee. 

“Johnny said he wants to have a meeting today to talk about another plan.  He wants Cipriano and the other men to be with us too.” Val took a cup of coffee.  “He knows he can’t keep going out for people to see him.”

“It’s about time he realized he needs to take care of himself,” Sam spoke up as Teresa put a plate of ham and eggs in front of him.  “It was a close call yesterday.”

“I have to go out with work crews today, Val,” Scott said.  “I can have Cipriano put me with Juan, Jose, Frank, Walt, and Joe.  We can come back in as soon as everyone clears the yard.”

“Will Johnny be awake by then?” Murdoch looked at Sam.

“I can wake him when everyone’s here,” Sam answered, taking a sip of his coffee.


As Murdoch came out of the house to give the work assignments, Scott pulled Cipriano aside to tell him what was happening.

After Murdoch gave out the assignments, Cipriano paired Juan, Jose, Walt, Frank, and Joe with Scott.  They left the yard with everyone else.  The six men went out a mile from the house and waited.  Thirty minutes later, they circled back behind the house and went inside to find Murdoch, Cipriano, Val, and Sam waiting for them.

“Are we ready to go up?” Sam asked.  They all nodded and went upstairs to Johnny’s room. 

“Let me wake him,” Sam moved into the room first.  “We don’t want him shooting anyone.”

Sam moved to the side of the bed.  He placed a hand on Johnny’s right hand, holding it down as he gently shook Johnny’s shoulder.

Johnny jerked awake and started to raise his gun.  As his mind cleared, he relaxed.

“Sam, I need to sit up a little,” Johnny said as he watched everyone move into the room.

Sam put pillows behind Johnny’s shoulders while Scott held him up.

“Alright.”  Val looked around the room and finally let his eyes rest on Johnny.  “We need plan B, cause plan A sure as hell ain’t’ working out so good.”

“I know,” Johnny agreed. 

“Well, I’m certainly glad to hear you admit it, young man.”

Johnny lowered his head.  “Yeah, Sam, bad idea on my part.  Real bad idea.”

“Well, not completely,” Frank spoke up.  “The boys have seen you two days in a row.  You got all the hands convinced you walked away clean from the gunfights.  The people we talked to in town seemed convinced also.”

“I have to admit that everyone I’ve talked to thinks you’re fine,” Sam joined in.

“So, what do we do now?” Scott asked.  “It’s obvious Johnny can’t go out again for at least a week.  What are the hands going to say if he disappears without an explanation?”

“Why does Senior Johnny need to disappear?” Juan spoke up.  “Why can we not have him seen out on the range?”

Everyone looked at Juan with their mouths open. 

“Juan, you put him on a horse, and he’ll be dead in an hour,” Sam protested.

“So, we do not put Senor Johnny on a horse,” Juan smiled.  “Why not put someone in his clothes on Barranca.  We have to make sure no one other than those in this room gets close to him.”

Cipriano nodded his head. “Si, it could work.”

“So, who puts on Johnny’s clothes and goes out?” Frank asked.

“There are only two people in this room that even come close to looking like Johnny,” Joe said. “It is either Juan or Jose.”

“No way,” Johnny pushed himself up further in the bed, pain etched across his face as he did so. “No one is going out there dressed like me.  What if whoever is behind this is moving to their Plan B?   The gunfighters didn’t work.   What if bushwhacking me is next?  No one is taking a bullet for me.”

Murdoch moved to the side of the bed. 

“Calm down, son.”

“It is a risk I am willing to take,” Juan spoke up.  “I look more like you than Jose.”

“It ain’t a risk I’m willing to let you take,” Johnny’s temper was rising.

“Johnny, think about it.”  Scott looked at his brother.  “What if we have ‘you’ ride out early in the morning just as the men are gathering.  Everyone sees you go.  Then Cipriano sets up work crews with one of us in it.  You ride up to the crew, staying out some distance.  One of us rides over to talk to ‘you.’  That way, you are seen everywhere and every day.”

“Scott, what if someone shoots him?” Johnny was breathing harder.  He started to cough. 

Sam placed a hand on Johnny’s back, rubbing it slowly.

“Wouldn’t they send more gunfighters?” Frank asked.

“Not yet they won’t,” Val answered.  “They’re gonna have to bring more in, and that will take time.  They’re gonna have to find someone desperate for a reputation to go up against Johnny now.”

“But they will find men?” Walt pointed out.

“Whoever is behind this will find the men.  That’s not our problem right now.  Our problem is to figure out how Johnny’s gonna be seen,” Val replied.

“Let’s say we have Juan dress as you for two or three days. On the third day, we tell everyone that Barranca was spooked and threw you.  Your leg’s broken, and you have to stay in bed,” Scott suggested.    “We can get close to two weeks of bed rest before raising suspicion.”

“Val, are there any strangers in town that you have noticed?  Someone who might be behind this?” Johnny asked, trying to calm himself and control his breathing.

“Haven’t been paying attention, but I will from here on out.”

“Val, you said ‘not yet’ on the gunfighters,” Scott asked, “what did you mean by ‘yet’?”

Johnny closed his eyes, knowing the answer to the question.  He didn’t want Val to answer it.

“Jake Benton came out of Texas.  Joe Simpson and Harry Lincoln were from Arizona.  Jerry Gibbons was from New Mexico.   All of them had one thing in common.  Each was the fastest gun in those states,” Val explained.

“Val,” Scott was watching Johnny, “does that mean what I think it means?”

“It means that when Johnny Madrid killed those four men, he took their reputations.  I figure Johnny is already the fastest gun in California.  By some accounts, he’s now the fastest gun in four states,” Val answered.

Johnny lowered his head.

“It means that as long as I’m at Lancer, none of you are safe,” Johnny said in a soft voice.  “It means that there will always be someone coming for me.  When this is over, whatever this is, I have to leave.”

“No, John,” Murdoch took Johnny’s hand, “it means we’ll face it as a family.  I’m not losing you again.”

Johnny looked at Murdoch and shook his head.

“Benton was right.  You can’t cheat Fate.”   He sighed.  “I’m never gonna be able to give up my gun.  I’ve lived too long with it.  One way or another, when you live by the gun, you die by it.”

“I don’t believe that, John.  You can give up your gun.  You have a family and friends now that will help you do that.  People will forget about Madrid.  We just have to give it time.”

Johnny didn’t say anything more.  He looked at Val.

Val knew Johnny was right.  Madrid would never fade away.

Val cleared his throat.  “Sounds like we have a plan.”  Val looked away from Johnny.  “Scott, you and Cipriano can work out the details here.  I have to get back to town.”

“I have to go back, also,” Sam said.  “Johnny, you need to rest, lots of liquids, and sleep as much as you can.  There are pain powders here if you need it.  I’ll expect someone to come for me in 2 or 3 days to treat a leg injury.”

“Come on, men,” Scott started toward the door, “let’s go downstairs and figure this out.  Johnny, you need to lay back down and get some sleep.”

“Don’t I get a say in any of this?” Johnny asked as he slumped down in the bed.

“No,” the answer came from Val, Scott, and Murdoch at the same time.

“Well, glad I called this little meeting,” Johnny said, the sound of defeat in his voice.  He tried settling back into the bed.

Cipriano and the men filed out of the room, followed by Scott. 

“Take care of yourself,” Val said as he left the room.  “Do what Sam says.  We got this covered.”

“Johnny, please do as I say,” Sam pleaded.  “You cannot get out of that bed for a week.  Not five days, not six days, but seven days.   Please, use the powders I left for pain.  You need complete rest, and if you’re in pain, you can’t rest.  I’ll be back to check on you when they send for me about your leg.”

“Thanks, Sam.” Johnny closed his eyes. “I’ll do my best.”

Murdoch nodded.  “Let me walk you out, Sam.  I’ll be right back, son.”

Sam and Murdoch walked downstairs.  Scott and the men were standing in the Great Room, discussing their plan.  Scott turned around to listen to Sam.  

“Murdoch, Scott, you both know what to do if his fever spikes again.  Someone needs to be with him at all times. You have six additional people who can sit with Johnny.  Use them.”

“Do not worry, Sam,” Cipriano said.  “I will make sure someone is with Juanito.  One of the ‘chosen’ men will be with him at all times.”

Murdoch nodded. “Thank you, Cipriano.” Then looking at the others, “Thank all of you.  It is a relief to know we have good friends we can count on.”

Murdoch walked Sam to his buggy. 

“Thank you, Sam.  You get back to town and get some rest.”

Murdoch watched as Sam drove away and then turned back to the house.

“Sir,” Scott called out as Murdoch walked back in.  “I think we have a plan worked out.  We only need to get Johnny’s clothes.  Do you know if Teresa has repaired the shirt Johnny was wearing on Saturday?”

Teresa walked into the room and heard what Scott had said.  “Oh, Scott, that poor shirt.  I’ve repaired it so many times; I don’t know if I can do it again.  I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you, honey,” Murdoch smiled, remembering how much the shirt meant to his youngest son.  “I’m going back upstairs.  Scott, you had better get back to work.  I don’t want anyone to miss your work crew and discover the job hasn’t been completed.”

“Not to worry, Sir,” Scott answered with a smile, “we’re repairing the bridge on the north range today.”

Murdoch looked confused. “I thought we repaired that bridge last week?”

Cipriano laughed.  “Si, Patron.  We repaired the bridge last week, so we have little to do once we get there.”                                                                                   

“We’d better go,” Scott picked up his hat and started toward the door. “See you this afternoon, Sir.”  He motioned for Cipriano and the men to follow him out.

Murdoch laughed as he made his way back upstairs.  He sat next to his sleeping son and made himself comfortable.  He was bound and determined the boy was going to stay in bed.  For a fleeting moment, Murdoch wondered if he should bring some rope up from the barn.



Matt Wilson had received another telegram from his employer.  He’d assured the man he had things under control; he’d lied. 

When Wilson heard Madrid had survived the gunfights with only a minor scratch, he started working on his Plan B or was it Plan C.  He was losing track.  No matter what he tried, he didn’t seem to be able to get the results he needed.

His employer had wired him the money he would need to start hiring gunfighters, as many as he could get.

Wilson immediately sent a telegram to Dodge City addressed to Bob Johnson.  Johnson was a fast gun. Wilson felt Johnson would be able to bring the men to him that the job needed.

He was careful not to mention Madrid’s name to any of the men he was hiring.

Wilson smiled.  He still had a man at Lancer, keeping track of Madrid and Murdoch Lancer.  He hadn’t heard from his man but was sure he would by Saturday night.

“Yes, this plan was going to work.”



Tuesday morning found everyone preparing for the day to come.  Scott had gone over their plan in detail with Cipriano the night before.  Now, all they needed to do was put it into action.  

Juan dressed in Johnny’s clothes and saddled Barranca.  The only real problem came when he found he couldn’t mount the horse without the risk of being bitten.   

Juan cursed the horse more than once but finally was able to mount and ride out the back door of the barn.  He waited behind the house until the men began gathering for orders.

Once Juan heard Murdoch’s voice, beginning to give the morning orders, he pulled his hat down over his eyes and kicked the horse’s sides.

Scott, in the yard, saw Juan start to move away from the house and yelled, “Johnny, wait up.”  Everyone in the yard turned to watch ‘Johnny’ ride away.

Juan just waved and continued to ride.

After Murdoch finished with the orders, Cipriano, assigned the men to the work crews. One of the ‘chosen’ men would be in a work crew that ‘Johnny’ would be riding by that day.

As the morning wore on, Juan, dressed as Johnny, visited all the crews.   Each time Juan would ride close but not close enough for anyone to get a good look.  Each time one of the ‘chosen’ men would wave at him, ride out and talk for a few minutes, and Juan would ride on.

After Juan made the rounds, he headed home.   Dismounting behind the house, he changed his clothes and then walked Barranca to the barn and brushed him down.

Juan then went inside the house to sit with Johnny to give Murdoch and Teresa a much-needed break.


Johnny had been awake since early morning, worrying.  There was no way he could rest knowing something could happen to Juan.  When he heard Juan’s footsteps in the hallway, he finally relaxed for the first time that day. 

Johnny pushed himself up on one elbow.

“Juan, how did it go?” Johnny asked the Vaquero the moment he entered the room.

“I believe I was a convincing Johnny Lancer, Juanito,” Juan answered with a smile.  “I was seen many times today by all of the men.”

“That’s good, Juan,” Johnny nodded.  He laid back, taking short labored breaths. “I think I’m gonna try to get some sleep.”

Johnny closed his eyes and tried to relax.  He soon found he couldn’t get his breathing under control.  Going deep inside himself, he tried to find the calm he needed.  Finally, with a sigh, he dropped into a fitful sleep.

An hour later, Juan stood up, stretched and walked to the window.  He stood to the side of the window and pulled the curtains aside, looking out onto the yard.  He didn’t see anyone, of course, it was still too early for any of the work crews to return.

He turned to look at Johnny and frowned.  He placed a hand on his friend’s forehead.  It felt hot.  He also realized Johnny’s breathing was still somewhat labored.

Juan quickly went down the back stairs to the kitchen.  He found Teresa and Maria preparing dinner.

“Senorita Teresa, I think maybe you should see Johnny. He is hot and having a hard time breathing.”

“I’ll be right back, Maria,” Teresa said as she followed Juan back upstairs.

One look at Johnny told her Juan was right.  She felt his forehead and face.

“I’ll get some willow bark tea.  That should help with the fever.  Stay with him, Juan.”  Teresa turned and left the room.

Juan took a washcloth and dipped it in the water in the washbasin.  The moment he put the cool cloth to Johnny’s forehead, blue eyes flew open, and Juan came face to face with the Colt. 

“It is alright, Juanito.” Juan jumped back. “You have a fever. I was only trying to cool you.”

Johnny nodded and lowered the gun.

Juan put the cloth back to Johnny’s forehead.

“Feels good.  Gracias, Amigo.”

“Da nada,” Juan smiled as he soaked the cloth again and continued to swab Johnny’s forehead.

When Teresa returned with the tea, she and Juan were able to lift Johnny enough for him to drink it.

“Don’t feel so good.” Johnny’s face was turning a shade of gray. “Chamber pot,” he gasped.

Teresa grabbed the chamber pot, while Juan quickly rolled Johnny to his side.  The act of throwing up took all his energy, and he collapsed back into the bed.

Teresa gave him more tea and then water.

Johnny realized too late she’d put laudanum was in the water.  He gulped the foul-tasting liquid before pushing the cup away.

“No, Teresa, no laudanum,” Johnny protested. 

“You need to rest.  You’re in pain, and that’s causing the fever,” she stated.  “Please, Johnny, just rest.”

“I’ll rest but, no … laudanum.”

Teresa smiled as Johnny dozed off, pleased with herself for getting some of the medicine down him.

“Juan, call me if you see any change,” Teresa instructed before walking out of the room.


Teresa found Murdoch sitting at his desk. 

“Murdoch,” Teresa called out as she entered the room, “I was just up with Johnny.  Juan came to get me.  He’s spiked another fever.”  She raised her hand as Murdoch started to jump up from his seat.  “I gave him some tea and some water with laudanum in it.  He’s sleeping now.”

“Do we need to send for Sam?” Murdoch asked, sitting back down.

“No, I think he had gotten himself worked up waiting for Juan to come back.  He was worried that something was going to happen.  I’ll go back up and check on him in a little while.”

“Scott should be back soon,” Murdoch replied, looking at the clock.  “I’ll go up to check on him.”

Murdoch entered Johnny’s room to see Juan placing a cloth on his son’s pale face.  Juan stepped away from the bed when Murdoch came into the room.

“He sleeps, Patron.”

“Thank you, Juan,” Murdoch said as he moved to the bed and placed a hand on his son’s forehead.

“Still too warm.”  

“Juan, why don’t you go back to the bunkhouse and rest.  Ask Cipriano to send one of the other men once they’ve had time to clean up.”

“Si, Patron,” Juan replied before turning and leaving the room.

Murdoch took the cloth and wiped the warm face.  Johnny’s eyes fluttered open.

“Hey,” Johnny smiled at his father.

“How are you feeling, son?” Murdoch asked, laying his hand alongside Johnny’s face.

“Not so good,” Johnny said to Murdoch’s surprise. 

Murdoch couldn’t remember one time when this son had said anything, but ‘I’m fine’ whenever asked about his health.

“Can I get you anything?” Murdoch asked.

Johnny shook his head slowly. 

“Try to sleep.” Murdoch laid a fresh cloth on Johnny’s forehead.

Johnny closed his eyes. 

Murdoch went back to the kitchen to let Teresa know that he was going to lay down for a little while.  He didn’t want to leave Johnny alone, but he was feeling the effects of the stress and lack of sleep.

“I’ll go back up in a minute,” Teresa replied as she picked up the laundry basket. “I need to bring in the laundry.  Maria has gone to her house for some things.”



Jason Taggert had been working at Lancer for over a month.  He hated ranch work and would be glad when he could go back to his regular job as a hired gun.

Of course, Taggert wasn’t using his real name.  He knew Madrid wouldn’t know who he was on sight, but he sure would know his name.  He chuckled to himself.  Anyone in the game knew his name.

When Wilson hired him, it was for one reason and one reason only. He was to keep his eyes and ears open as to what was happening at Lancer and report back to Wilson.  That’s what he planned to do.  For now, anyway.

Wilson had gone over the initial plan with him.

The first part of the plan was to have Madrid die.

Taggert saw for himself how badly the attempt to kill Madrid had gone.  He’d been among those in the yard on Saturday, watching the gunfights.  Frankly, he was astonished at the turn of events.

Taggert had worked with Johnny several times in the month since he’d hired on as a ranch hand.  He found he actually enjoyed the boy’s company.  There were times he’d wondered if he really was Madrid. 

Hell, he’d even laughed, along with the other hands, at some of the antics the two Lancer boys had gotten themselves into.  Somehow, he couldn’t see the kid wrestling with his brother in the dirt as the gunfighter legend spoke of.

Taggert smiled when Wilson told him about the four gunhawks he’d hired.  He was pleased he was finally going to see Madrid in action.

When everyone gathered near the corral on Saturday morning, he’d watched Madrid joking around with Walt and Frank.  As three of the gunhawks started to ride into the yard, he was watching Madrid.  He saw the transformation himself.  In a split second, Lancer vanished, and Madrid was there.

He watched the first gunfight and had to admit his jaw dropped when he saw how fast the kid was.  The next two gunfights were just as astonishing.  He’d found himself starting to cheer for Madrid along with the other hands.

When Madrid went to face off with Benton, he had no doubt who would come out on top.  He’d seen Benton in action before.  Benton was the fastest gun Taggert had ever seen.  

When the gunfight between Madrid and Benton was over, Taggart stood wide-eyed, mouth open.

Madrid had effortlessly taken down Benton.

He couldn’t believe Madrid had come out of the four gunfights with only a minor injury.  The thing that later confused him was the pool of blood where Madrid was standing.  It was a lot of blood for just a minor injury.

He, along with everyone else, saw Madrid briefly on Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday.  Today, he’d seen him riding off during morning orders and later, out on the range.

Still, something wasn’t settin’ right with him.

On Monday night, Taggert went to the bunkhouse with everyone else.  The men talked about the day’s work and what was going to be needed the next day.   Someone picked up a guitar and started to play.   A few of the men started a poker game. 

Taggert looked around and noticed Frank, Walt, Joe, Juan, and Jose huddled together at one end of the bunkhouse.   Those five were always together these days.  Then he realized he hadn’t seen Juan go out with any of the work crews that morning.

Taggert laid down in his bunk and glanced back at the five men.  

‘I wonder?’


Taggert contemplated the events of the last few days and what he knew.

On Saturday afternoon, he watched as Scott talked to Cipriano.

Cipriano ordered five men to saddle up and meet him at the house.  The six men had stayed in the house for close to an hour.  The next thing he knew, the Sheriff and four of the men were riding toward town with the dead gunhawks. 

It wasn’t long after that he’d seen Madrid walk out of the house. Although Madrid was walking around, he looked paler than he had earlier in the day.

His curiosity grew when Frank and Walt didn’t come out.  It wasn’t like either man to spend time inside the big house.  His curiosity was mounting when, finally, he saw them following the doctor’s buggy toward town.

He had forgone a trip to town on Saturday night and stayed at the ranch.  Wilson would be expecting a report, but Wilson could wait.  

Taggert wanted to keep watch on the house.  It was late Saturday night when he saw Walt and Frank ride back in.  Shortly after that, they went back to the main house.  When Walt and Frank later went to the bunkhouse, he decided to call it a night. 

On Sunday, Taggert situated himself behind the house. He saw Frank and Walt go inside just before the family left for church.  It was close to an hour and a half later when the two men came back out.

Tagger moved to the front of the house just in time to see Madrid walk out and sit down.

Since Sunday, Cipriano, Frank, Walt, Jose, Juan, and Joe had spent a good deal of time coming and going from the house.


On Tuesday morning, Taggert dragged himself to the corral for orders.  He’d spent so much time watching the house; he hadn’t gotten any real sleep in days.

Taggert looked around and saw that Juan was once again missing.  A shout went up from someone, and everyone’s attention went drawn to the golden horse and Johnny riding away.

Taggert smiled.  He knew what he was going to do today.

It was a little after 11:00 when Taggert broke off from his work crew, made his way back to the ranch house, and waited.  Finally, he saw Juan come out the back door of the house and head to the bunkhouse. 

He edged closer to the house and the kitchen door.  He heard old man Lancer tell the girl he was going to lie down.  When he saw Maria leave and Teresa come out to gather the laundry, he knew this was going to be his only chance to have a look around upstairs.  He already knew which room was Madrid’s.

If his suspicions were right, he wouldn’t run into Madrid.  If he was wrong, well, … he’d have to take care of Madrid now and make Wilson happy.

Taggert entered through the kitchen.  Finding it empty, he quietly went up the back stairs.  He eased down the hallway until he got to Madrid’s room.  The door was ajar.    He edged it open further and looked in.

Taggert found himself smiling when his suspicions were confirmed.  Madrid was in bed and looked to be sleeping.  There were bandages wrapped around his chest and waist.

‘So, you were shot. A lot worse than you let on.’

Taggert went back the way he’d come.  He knew what he needed to do and he needed to plan how to do it.



On Wednesday morning, Juan dressed again as Johnny and, once again, repeated his performance of the day before.

Once Juan was done for the day, he changed his clothes and walked Barranca back to the barn. Entering through the kitchen, he took the kitchen stairs to the second floor and found Teresa coming out of Johnny’s room.

“Hello, Juan,” Teresa greeted him warmly. “His fever spiked again this morning.  I’ll be glad when you don’t have to dress like Johnny anymore.  It’s tearing him up that you’re out there dressed like him.  He’s afraid for you.”

“I know, Senorita Teresa,” Juan answered with a smile.  “We have only one more day.  The plan is for the ‘accident’ to happen tomorrow.  It is then that I will no longer have to pretend to be Juanito.”

“I’ll be downstairs if you need me.” 

Juan sat in the chair near the window and watched Johnny sleep.  When Johnny moved, Juan watched his right hand.  It was lying on his chest.  Juan smiled, now knowing where Johnny’s gun was. 

Juan stretched and stood up.  He saw Johnny’s eyes open. 

“Juan,” Johnny whispered, “are you by yourself today?”

“Si,” Juan whispered, watching Johnny’s hand moving off his chest.

“Juan, get back in the far corner behind the door and stay there,” Johnny directed, as he let his hand and gun fall to his side.

Johnny had been half asleep the day before when he heard the door to his room open slightly and then close.  The footsteps he had heard weren’t familiar to him.  He had just caught the sound of the same strange footfall.  Someone was slowly moving down the hall.

He turned his head, pretending to be asleep.  He heard the door being pushed open.  When he heard a gun cock, Johnny raised and fired while rolling off the bed onto his left side.

The headboard, where his head was only seconds before, exploded into a hundred splinters.

A man fell to the floor, face down at the foot of the bed.

A shocked Juan ran to Johnny.  His friend was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling.  Pain etched on his face.  

Juan heard running feet and picked up Johnny’s Colt.  He aimed it at the door.  He sighed with relief when he saw the Patron run into the room; his gun also drawn.

Murdoch had been at his desk when he heard the gunshots.  He grabbed his gun and ran upstairs.  When he entered his son’s room, he saw the body on the floor near the door.  His eyes searched the room.

Panic set in seeing the bed empty.


“Here, Patron,” Juan called back. “He is here.”

Murdoch found Johnny lying on the floor, moaning in anguish.  Juan was trying to cradle his head.

“What happened?”

“I am not sure, Patron. Juanito told me to get into the far corner.  Next, the door opens, and Taggert came in with his gun drawn.  Johnny shot him as he rolled from the bed,” Juan answered.  “Patron, he is in much pain.”

“Juan, go find Cipriano and have him bring Scott and the other men in.” Murdoch knelt beside his son.   “Juan, tell Teresa to bring up bandages.”  Then as an afterthought.  “Throw something over him,” he said, pointing to Taggert’s body.

“You want to move him to the bed?” Juan asked as he threw a blanket over Taggert’s body.

“No,” Murdoch shook his head.  “We need more help.  I don’t want to hurt him any more than he is already.”  As Murdoch pulled a pillow from the bed, to put it under Johnny’s head, he saw the bullet hole in the headboard.  “Oh my, God.”


Juan quickly found Cipriano and told him what happened.  Cipriano, in turn, wasted no time in riding out to get Scott. 

“Senor Scott, the Patron needs you back at the hacienda, pronto.”

“What’s wrong?  Is it Johnny?”

“I cannot say, Senor, only that you must hurry.  Juan has gone for the other men.”

Scott rode up to the house at a gallop with Cipriano right behind him.  Throwing himself from his horse, he ran into the house and up the stairs.  As he entered Johnny’s room, he almost tripped over the body lying on the floor.  

Scott’s eyes fell on the back of his father, sitting in a chair on the far side of the room.    He walked over to see Johnny lying unconscious on the floor.

Scott turned to see Cipriano enter the room, followed closely by Juan, Jose, Walt, Frank, and Joe.

“Murdoch, what happened?”

“Taggert tried to kill your brother,” Murdoch answered.  “Thank God, he had his gun with him, or he would have been dead.”

Murdoch indicated the bullet hole in the headboard.  All eyes followed his gaze.

“Is he hurt?”

“I don’t know, Scott.  He rolled off the bed to avoid the bullet.  He’s passed out.  I don’t know how bad he’s hurt.” Murdoch stood up. “Can a couple of you get him back to bed?  I’ve been afraid to move him by myself.  We’re going to move him to the room at the far end of the hall, just in case anyone else comes looking for him.”

Joe and Jose were closest to Johnny.  They managed to get between the bed and the wall and pick him up.  They carried him to the new room and put him in the bed.

Johnny’s eyes opened as he gasped in pain.  He looked at his brother. 

“Boston, I never thought I’d ask this, but can you break my leg today?  I need Sam bad.”

Scott sat on the edge of the bed and stared at Johnny.

“Juan, go get dressed.  Walt, Frank get the buckboard.   Cipriano, we need to do this now.  I was hoping for tomorrow, but….” Scott stopped.

“Si, Senor Scott,” Cipriano said.   “Joe, will go to town and get Sam.  Tell him Juanito was injured and his leg is hurt.  Tell Sheriff Crawford that we need him also.

Jose, you and I will get Taggert’s body out of here.  Juan, I need you in the north pasture in 30 minutes.   Jose and I will meet you there.  As soon as Frank and Walt come to get Juan, Joe, you will go to get Sam and Sheriff Crawford.”

“Cipriano, that means it will be at least two hours before Sam gets here,” Murdoch said.

“It’s fine, old man,” Johnny groaned, grasping his chest.  “Let’s just get it done.”

After everyone left, Johnny looked at Murdoch. “Think I could have some laudanum?”

Murdoch could see the pain etched in Johnny’s face. 

“That bad?”

Johnny just nodded.


Everything went as planned, even if it was ahead of schedule. 

Cipriano and Jose met Juan in the north pasture.  Juan laid on the ground next to Barranca while Jose went back to the ranch to have Walt and Frank bring the wagon.  Several hands saw Juan helped into the back of the wagon.

The plan was coming together.

Joe rode into town at a gallop.  He stormed into Sam’s office and told Sam that Johnny had been thrown and hurt his leg. 

Val was in his office when he heard a horse running down the street.  He stepped out onto the boardwalk in time to see Joe jump off his horse and run into Sam’s office.

Val grabbed his hat and walked across to the street.  Joe was coming out of Sam’s office when he spotted Val.  Joe looked at Val with panic in his eyes.

“What the hell,” Val thought.

“Sheriff, I think Johnny’s leg’s broken,” Joe said loud enough for anyone passing by to hear.

“What happened?” Val played along.

“I think his horse got spooked and threw him.  Cipriano sent me.  They were taking him home when I left.” Joe closed his eyes and shook his head.

‘He is playing this to the hilt,’ Val thought.

Joe turned to see Sam strolling out the door.

“Sam, you need to hurry.”  There was panic in Joe’s voice, “Doc, we need to go now.  I mean, right now.”    

Sam and Val both looked at Joe at the same time, realizing Joe wasn’t acting.

Val got his horse and harnessed Sam’s buggy.  They rode out 15 minutes later.

Once outside of town, Val pulled up and turned to Joe.

“Joe, what the hell is going on. This wasn’t supposed to happen until tomorrow morning.”

Joe was shaking his head. 

“Val someone tried to shoot Johnny in his bedroom.  Johnny killed the man, but he’s hurt.  I don’t know how bad,” Joe blurted out.  “He told us we needed to move the plan up.”

“Sam, I’m riding ahead.  You and Joe get there as soon as you can.” Val rode off without another word.

 Sam turned to Joe. “Was Johnny shot, Joe?”

“I don’t know, Sam,” Joe answered.  “All I know is the last time I saw him; he was in a lot of pain.”


Val rode into Lancer at a gallop.   Jumping from his horse, he ran into the house.

His heart sank, finding Johnny’s room empty.  Panic set in when he saw the bullet hole in the headboard where the boy’s head would have been.  Slowly, he backed out of the room and saw movement to his left.

Walt and Frank were standing in the hallway.  Juan was coming out of Scott’s room with Johnny’s clothes in his hands. 

Val tore into the room down the hall only to see Cipriano’s back.  

Looking past Cipriano, Val could see Johnny lying in bed with Murdoch and Scott sitting on either side.

Johnny looked up and smiled when he saw Val walked in. “Hey, Val, think this was part of their Plan A?”  

“So, what happened?” Val swallowed hard.

“One of the new hands.   I think Taggert figured it out yesterday.  I heard him come into my room and leave.   He came back today.  Guess he figured he’d finish what the others started.”

Johnny started coughing.

Murdoch lifted his head.

“Can’t breathe,” Johnny gasped. “Can’t breathe.”

Murdoch and Scott lifted Johnny to a sitting position.  Johnny continued to cough, a trickle of blood forming at the corner of his mouth.

“Scott, get me the laudanum from Johnny’s room,” Murdoch ordered with panic in his voice.      

“No, wait!” Sam said as he entered the room, pushing past Val. “Let me look at him first.”

“Johnny, where does it hurt?” Sam asked, sitting on the side of the bed. 

“Chest,” Johnny breathed the words. “Rolled off the bed and hit the floor.  Side busted open again.  Sorry, Sam.”

Sam examined Johnny’s chest, “There’s a rib cracked, and it’s putting pressure on your lung.  I don’t think it’s broken.  Your ribs are badly bruised, and, yes, you ripped the stitches out again.  I’m giving you a shot of morphine.”

Johnny just looked at him with pleading eyes.

“No argument from me,” he said, gasping for air.

Sam drew a syringe with morphine and pushed the needle into Johnny’s arm.  He sat back and waited.

Slowly, Johnny’s head lolled back and then forward and then totally fell back.   Scott and Murdoch lowered him into the bed. 

As soon as he was lying down, Johnny started to gasp for air.

“Hurry, raise him back up,” Sam ordered.

Scott and Murdoch lifted Johnny to a sitting position and his breathing eased.

“He’s going to have to stay sitting up.” Sam looked around the room. “We need more pillows.”

Murdoch looked at the men standing at the door.  “Go find all the pillows you can from the other rooms.”

Soon the men returned with more than enough pillows and Sam arranged them behind Johnny’s back.  Murdoch and Scott moved the unconscious man into a sitting position against them.

They waited to see if Johnny was going to have problems breathing.  Sam nodded his satisfaction.

“Alright, everyone else out.  Cipriano, will you stay to help me?” Sam asked. 

“Sam, …,” Murdoch started to protest.

“Murdoch, out!”

Murdoch and Scott left the room and started downstairs, followed by Val, Walt, Frank, Joe, Juan, and Jose.  Once in the Great Room, Murdoch collapsed into his chair.

Scott went to the drink cart and poured a whiskey and handed the glass to his father.  He then poured a glass for everyone else.  

Val looked around and took a sip of his drink. “Any of you fellows know where Taggert’s body’s at?”

“We put him at the rear of the house,” Jose answered.

“Any of you know anything about Taggert?” Val asked.

“He’s a new hand,” Frank answered.  “Hired on about a month ago.  Haven’t had any problems with him.”

“Did he have any friends here?”

“No, seemed to be a loner,” Walt answered as he took a large gulp of his drink.

Val rubbed his chin and sat his glass down.  He walked out of the room and came back about 5 minutes later. 

“His names not Taggert,” Val stated. “He a hired gun name of Bixby.  I’ve seen him before.  Frank, what do you say I meet all your new hands?  There may be someone else here I know.”

The work crews were coming in as Val and Frank walked out to the bunkhouse.  Word quickly spread that Johnny had injured his leg. 

Val put his horse in the barn and rubbed him down.  He looked at the faces of every man who came in that day.  He didn’t recognize anyone else.

Val went back to the Great Room with Frank.  He asked if anyone could take Taggert/Bixby’s body into town to the Undertaker.  Walt volunteered to take the body and going around the back way so that none of the hands would see him.

“We’ll bring a horse around back,” Joe said and motioned for Juan and Jose to join him.  Frank and Joe took the hint and followed them out.

Val picked up his glass and sat down with Murdoch and Scott.  They silently waited.

An hour passed before they heard Sam coming down the stairs.   When he got to the bottom of the stairs, he walked over and poured himself a whiskey.  

“Well?” Murdoch finally asked.

“Johnny has at least one cracked rib and several are bruised.  The cracked rib is putting pressure on his lung.  He ripped out his stitches.  I stitched him up again and bound his ribs,” Sam took a sip of his drink.  “He’s in a lot of pain right now.”

“It could have been worse,” Val spoke up as he poured himself another drink.

Everyone looked at him.

“Ok, I’ll ask,” Scott responded. “How could it have been worse?”

“Taggert…Bixby, whatever he called himself, was a real good shot,” Val answered. “Never known him to miss before.  Did you see Johnny’s headboard?  If Johnny wasn’t who he was and hadn’t had his gun, we’d have been burying Johnny instead of Bixby.”

“Murdoch, you’re about to pass out.” Sam was watching his friend.  “Why don’t you go lay down.  Johnny won’t wake up until morning.”

“Someone needs to sit with him,” Murdoch said.

“We’ll figure out a schedule, sir,” Scott said.  “Please, go lay down.”

Murdoch stood and moved slowly up the stairs.   He stopped by Johnny’s new room to check on him.  He reached out a hand and brushed the hair from his son’s forehead.

He wondered if the boy was ever going to catch a break.  Even when they thought he was safe in his bed; trouble had found him.

Murdoch was tired, so very tired.  He sat down in the chair next to the bed and leaned over, laying his head down.  That’s where Scott found him an hour later, sound asleep. 


Sam and Val walked out to the corral and found Cipriano surrounded by the hands. 

“How is Juanito?” Cipriano asked anxiously.

“He’ll be fine, Cipriano,” Sam said as the hands moved closer to hear what he was saying.  “There is a minor fracture to his leg and bruised his ribs. I can’t believe that boy.  Survives four gunfights with only a minor scratch and ends up getting hurt by falling off a horse.”

“How about his gun hand?” Frank asked.

“Trust me, Frank, Johnny’s gun hand is just fine.  That leg isn’t going to slow him down,” Val spoke up.

“I’ve stabilized the leg for now, and I’ll recheck it in a couple of days,” Sam added. 

“Cipriano, I think Mr. Lancer is going to need a few men to help Johnny out for a while.  Johnny’s going to have to be on bed rest for at least three weeks,” Val said.  “Think you could choose some men to keep off the work crews.”

“Si,” Cipriano answered, “I will speak to the Patron and see who he will need.”

Sam and Val walked back to the house.

“Well, I think that went well,” Val said.

“So, do I, Val,” Sam said, smiling, “so do I.”


Two days had passed since Taggert’s/ Bixby’s attempt on Johnny’s life.   Since that day, Murdoch insisted two men be with his son at all times.   Cipriano worked out a schedule rotating the men to watch Johnny.

It worried Murdoch that his son still had to sleep sitting up.  Each day the men lifted Johnny and tried to lay him down.  Each day Johnny started coughing and gasping for air. 

Jose and Joe were sitting with Johnny on Friday.  Johnny was awake and talking for the first time since the attempt on his life.

“You two going to town tonight?” Johnny asked, taking short breaths. 

“Not tonight, Amigo,” Jose answered.  “It is only Friday.  We may go tomorrow night.”

Joe looked at Johnny with a worried look on his face.

“Friday?” Johnny tried to laugh and coughed. “Guess I’ve lost track of time.”

Johnny was tired of sitting up.  He wanted more than anything to lay down. 

“Joe, Jose, let’s try laying me down.  I don’t think I can stand sitting up anymore.”

“You sure, Johnny?” Joe asked.                                                                                

Johnny nodded.  Jose and Joe gently lifted Johnny from the pillows and moved them aside.  They laid him back in the bed.  

Johnny tried to take a breath and started to gasp.  Pain shot through his chest.   He shook his head violently.

“Up… up…,” he gasped as Jose and Joe grabbed him and lifted him back up.

Jose put the pillows back into place, and they placed Johnny back into the sitting position.    Johnny’s lips started to turn blue, and his breathing was ragged.

“Jose, go get Mr. Lancer and then get Sam,” Joe ordered.

Jose ran from the room.  Joe looked at Johnny, afraid to leave him.

It wasn’t long before Murdoch and Teresa ran into the room.

“What’s wrong?” Murdoch moved to Johnny’s side.

Johnny was coughing and gasping for air.   He grabbed Murdoch’s arm and looked at him with terror in his eyes.

“He can’t breathe, Mr. Lancer,” Joe responded.   “Johnny wanted to lay down. You know we’ve been trying every day to see if he could manage it.  The second we got him down, he started gasping for air.”

“We need to get Sam,” Murdoch’s voice was near panic.

“Jose’s already on his way.”

Johnny looked at his father with pleading eyes.

“Can’t breathe,” he coughed.  “Please…, please help me,” he begged with tears in his eyes.  “Don’t let me die like this.  Not like this.”

“You’re not going to die, son.  Just hold on.  Sam’s coming.”  Murdoch looked at his son, feeling completely helpless.  “Try to relax, slow your breathing.”

Johnny was shaking his head, coughing, “No.  Devils’ not gonna get me like this.”  Johnny started to struggle.  His face turned red, then pale.  His lips were turning a deeper shade of blue. “Not like this.  Wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Was always supposed to be a bullet.” 

Murdoch was trying to hold Johnny’s thrashing arms.

“Joe, help me,” Murdoch yelled, grasping Johnny’s arms.

Joe went to the other side of the bed.  Between them, they tried to keep Johnny from lashing out.   The harder he fought, the more breath he lost. 

Suddenly Johnny stopped moving and looked into his father’s eyes.  “Wasn’t… supposed… to… die… like… this.”  Johnny gasped between words.  “I’ll… pay… the …devil… his… due… but… not… like… this,” Johnny gasped as his eyes rolled back and he passed out.

“Joe, help me shift him.”

Murdoch put his arms around the limp body of his son.  Johnny’s head fell back against Murdoch’s chest.   “Maybe, we can take some of the pressure off his lungs.”

Together they moved Johnny and could see instant relief in his breathing. 

Murdoch looked across the room.  Teresa was sitting on the floor with her back to the wall. Her arms wrapped around her legs.  Tears were streaming down her cheeks. 

She looked toward the heavens, ‘I can’t lose him. I can’t lose him, too.  Please, don’t let me lose him.’


Johnny felt like one of them elephants Scott talked about was sitting on his chest.  He couldn’t breathe, and panic had set in.

He had always known, from the first time he killed a man in a gunfight, that his soul belonged to the devil.   He had known that someday a bullet would take him.  He’d made his peace with that a long time ago.  Now, however, he was facing death, and he found he wasn’t ready.  The thought of suffocating was something he wouldn’t accept.

He had begged his father for help; help that he knew the man couldn’t give.   He had seen the panic in his father’s eyes as he held him, urging him to calm down and breathe slowly.  He had struggled against his father’s hands.  The more he fought, the more his lungs had stopped functioning. 

With one last gasp, he could no longer keep his head up, and he accepted the darkness when it had come.


Sam pulled up to the house for what seemed like the 10th time that week.   He and Jose made their way to Johnny’s room to see Murdoch wiping the young man’s face with a cool cloth.

“He can’t breathe, Sam,” Murdoch’s panicked voice scared Sam. 

“Let me see,” Sam moved in.  He lifted Johnny’s eyelids and shook his head, not liking what he saw.  Sam rechecked his ribs.   “Murdoch, the rib is pushing on his lung.  I was hoping it would mend and pull away, but it isn’t.   I’m going to have to operate to pull the rib away from the lung.”

“Joe, Jose, I’m going to need help.  Do you think you can handle this?”  Sam turned to the two men. 

“I don’t know Doc,” Joe answered.

“I’ll do it,” Murdoch said.

“No Murdoch, not you.  I don’t want you watching this,” Sam started pulling instruments from his bag.  “Jose, take these to Teresa and have her boil them.  Joe, I need bandages, lots of bandages.  Maria will know what I need.”

Joe nodded and left the room with Jose following him.

It seemed to Murdoch that things had gone into slow motion.  He needed his oldest son; he needed Scott. 

When Joe and Jose returned with the instruments and bandages, Murdoch turned to Jose.

“Jose, can you go get Scott,” Murdoch said and then added, “please.”

“Si, Patron.”

Joe watched as Jose left.  That left him alone to help Sam.  Joe thought he was going to be sick.  When Maria walked into the room and said she would help also, Joe could have kissed the woman.

Murdoch made his way to the Great Room and collapsed into a chair.  All he could do now was wait.

It seemed like forever before Murdoch heard the front door open and then slam shut.  Scott and Jose entered the Great Room and found Murdoch sitting at his desk with his head in his hands.  Murdoch looked like he’d aged ten years older since that morning.

“Sir?” Scott came to a halt in the middle of the room.

“Sam’s operating on your brother now.  He couldn’t breathe.  Sam is trying to pull the rib off his lung,” Murdoch replied, staring at nothing in particular.  “Scott, Johnny thought he was going to die.  He was suffocating.”

Scott collapsed on the sofa.  Jose moved to stand near the door.

An hour later, Sam came down the stairs, wiping his hand on a towel. 

Murdoch, Scott, and Jose moved to meet him. 

“He’s fine now,” Sam said with a weary smile.  “It was rough for a little while. The rib was worse than I first thought.  He stopped breathing all together at one point.  I was able to make a minor incision over the rib that was causing the problem and pull it back into position.  It took the pressure off the lung right away.”

“He’ll be alright?” Scott asked, falling into the nearest chair.

“He will be. Joe is with him now.  He’ll still need watching.  I’m afraid he’s going to have to stay in bed for at least another week.”

“His breathing?”  Murdoch asked.

“Much better,” Sam said.  “He’s able to lay down now.  He’s going to be asleep at least through tomorrow morning, so you all need to get some rest.”

“Thank you, Sam.”

Murdoch marched across the room and pulling his friend to him.

“You’re welcome. Besides, I’ve gotten attached to that boy, too.”  Sam cleared his throat. Taking out a handkerchief, he wiped his eyes.  “I’m going back up to check him, and then I have to make my rounds.  I would imagine he’ll spike a fever, but you know what to do.”

Sam turned to go back upstairs.

“What if the hands start asking why Sam was out again?” Scott asked, turning to Murdoch.

“I don’t know,” Murdoch answered, too tired to even think.

“We will tell them Juanito has a fever,” Jose remarked.  “It will be the truth.” Murdoch and Scott looked at Jose and smiled.  Of course, the truth.    



Days soon turned into weeks. 

Johnny’s wounds, for the most part, healed nicely and his strength returned.  Knowing Johnny was confined to his bed with injuries to his leg and ribs, the hands thought nothing of not seeing him every day.

Two weeks after the gunfights, Sam removed the last of the stitches in Johnny’s side.  A week after that, he removed the stitches from the surgery.

Four weeks after the gunfights, the fake cast was removed much to the relief and appreciation of everyone at Lancer.  Patience was not one of Johnny’s virtues.   Living with him had become impossible as Johnny’s mood swung from bad to worse.

Johnny took to pacing once the cast was removed.  He was tired of waiting for someone to make the next move. 

Finally, Sam released him for light work.

The first thing he did was saddle Barranca and rode out to open range.   Cipriano was coming from the barn and saw him ride away.

“Dios mio,” he said, shaking his head, “that boy.”  He looked around and saw Frank and Walt riding in.  He yelled for them to follow Johnny.

Johnny rode hard for 30 minutes until Barranca started to slow.  Both man and horse were out of breath.

Johnny circled back the way he’d come, stopping at a copse of trees on the north range.

It didn’t take Frank and Walt long to catch up with Johnny.  Walt was the first to see the golden horse grazing near the trees.  They both took a deep breath, relieved they’d found him.  

A shot broke the still air.

Frank and Walt looked at each other and took off at a gallop.  They heard a second shot as they jumped off their horses while they were still moving.  Both men drew their guns and ran toward the sound of the gunshots. 

Johnny heard the noise behind him and turned sharply, gun drawn.   Frank and Walt moved further into the clearing to see Johnny’s Colt pointing at them.

“Are you two crazy,” Johnny hissed.  “I could have killed you.  I would have thought by now you knew not to sneak up on me.” The sudden movement sent a wave of pain through his side.

“Sorry, Johnny,” Walt answered.  “Cipriano was upset that you rode out without someone with you.  We heard shots and didn’t even think.” 

The two men quickly holstered their guns.

Johnny holstered his gun and wrapped his arms around himself.  He bent over, taking short breaths to control the pain.

“I’m just practicing,” Johnny snapped as he stood back up, still holding his side.

“Are you alright?” Frank started moving toward Johnny.  

“I’m fine,” Johnny answered finally, controlling the pain.   “You two go on back.  I’ll be back soon.”

“Johnny,” Frank shook his head, “we can’t do that.  Cipriano and your Pa would skin us if we left you out here by yourself.  You go on and practice.  We’ll wait for you.”

“Frank, I can take care of myself now that I’m back on my feet.”  Johnny wiped a hand over his eyes.  The pain had brought tears to his eyes.

“We’ll wait,” Walt insisted.  “We’ll be over by the horses when you’re ready to go back.”  He nudged Frank, and they both walked away. 

Johnny sat down on one of the fallen trees.

“Wait,” Johnny called out, “you don’t have to leave.  Sit down with me for a bit.”

Frank and Walt turned back to see Johnny sit down, clutching his side.  They moved back to sit on either side of him.

“I’m sorry,” Johnny said. “I know you fellows have been putting in a lot of overtime watching out for me and I appreciate it.   I don’t know how you’ve put up with me.  I know I’ve been a bear.”

“It not been so bad, Johnny,” Walt laughed. “Miss Teresa’s been giving us extra eats while we’re with you.  I think I’ve gained ten pounds in the last five weeks.”

Johnny laughed, “I know I gained back everything I lost.”

“You feeling better now?” Frank asked.

Johnny took a deep breath. 

“Yeah,” he breathed out, “I think the pain’s gone.   Let me practice for a little while longer, and then we’ll head back.”

Johnny’s time in bed had made him feel vulnerable.  He knew that he needed to build his reflexes and speed up again.

No matter how many times he practiced, he always had the same routine, starting with the basics and working up to the draw and fire.

Practicing a slow draw was always first.  Johnny drew in smooth motions, not for speed, but control.

Next came the draw for speed.  He repeated the movements over and over until he felt comfortable.

Now it was time to practice accuracy.  He drew and fired, letting his instincts take over. It felt good; it felt right.

Relaxing his shoulders, he took a slow breath.  He drew and fired again, fanning the hammer as he did.  Hitting 6 out of 6 of the targets produced the satisfaction he’d wanted.

Johnny gave thought to that Saturday morning when he’d faced Gibbons.  He remembered, with a smile, the feeling he had when he’d drawn, leveled, fired, and re-holstered in one smooth motion.  That was the ultimate exhilaration for a gunfighter.

Johnny made the same move again.  He cleared his mind.  Dug deep inside himself and found his old friend Madrid.  A smile crossed his face, and in that same fluid movement, he crouched down, drew, leveled, fired, and returned the gun to his holster.   The same exhilaration filled him. 

It was not as fast as he should have been, but it was a start.

He looked at Frank and Walt and winked.  “Let’s head in.” Johnny moved toward Barranca. “I’m getting hungry, and I think Teresa has chocolate cake.  I bet I can convince her to give you two a piece if you want.”

Both men grinned and followed Johnny.


Johnny was beginning to feel like a prisoner.  Someone was always watching him.  Cipriano made sure that either he, Walt, Frank, Joe, Juan, or Jose was always with him.

Johnny, like Cipriano, had started calling them the ‘chosen.’   Truth be told, Johnny was happy to have someone besides his family he felt he could trust.

Johnny went back to his regular work routine six weeks after the gunfights.  Cipriano made sure that at least two of the ‘chosen’ were always with him.

One day shortly after going back to work, Murdoch gave Scott the job of going to town for supplies.  Johnny announced he was going with his brother.  He hadn’t been to Green River or anywhere else since before the gunfights.

“Johnny,” Murdoch stood with his arms crossed over his chest.  “I would prefer you not to go to town right now.”

“So, when Murdoch?” Johnny snapped.  “You planning on me hiding out at the ranch for the rest of my life?”

Scott stood back with his arms crossed, imitating Murdoch, waiting for the conclusion of the latest battle between his father and brother.

“No, of course, not.”

“Then, I’m going to town with Scott,” Johnny snapped again.

“If you go to town, I want some of the hands going with you,” Murdoch rebutted.

“Don’t need babysitters, old man,” Johnny shot back.

“If you want to go to town, you will take some of the hands,” Murdoch yelled, “otherwise, you stay right here.  It’s only been six weeks.”

“Alright,” Johnny turned, heading for the door, “send some hands with us.”

“Johnny, promise me you won’t get into trouble today,” Murdoch raised his voice as he moved toward his son.

“I promise I won’t start anything, old man,” Johnny answered. “Won’t promise I won’t finish something if someone else starts trouble.” 

Scott unfolded his arms and walked toward the door. “I think that went well,” Scott smiled as he pulled the door open.

“Scott, tell Cipriano to send four men with you,” Murdoch turned back to his desk, “and Scott, watch your brother.”

“Always do,” Scott countered before leaving the room.

Scott drove the wagon with Juan on the seat beside him. Walt, Frank, and Joe rode behind.  Johnny insisted on riding Barranca.

As they entered Green River, Johnny pulled his hat down over his eyes.  It wasn’t unusual for people to watch him as he rode into a town, but he thought this was ridiculous.

“Wish they would stop staring,” Johnny grumbled as he dismounted in front of the general store.

“Don’t think that’s going to happen,” Scott laughed, getting down from the buckboard.

Scott looked around. 

“Juan, Frank, keep your eyes open,” Scott directed, “while the rest of us load the wagon.”

Johnny started to go into the store when he heard Scott clear his throat.  Johnny turned around.   Scott was looking at him with his hands on his hips.

“I can help,” Johnny protested.

“Not today, Brother. No lifting for you.”

Johnny shrugged and moved into the rocking chair in front of the store.

“Can you get me a stick or two of peppermint?” Johnny grinned.

Scott shook his head and smiled. Scott came out shortly and handed Johnny a bag full of peppermint sticks.

“Thank you, Brother,” Johnny’s eyes lit up as he took the bag.

An hour later, the supplies were loaded.

Johnny slipped the bag of peppermint sticks into his saddlebag and turned to look at Scott and his four ‘babysitters.’ 

“I want a beer.” Johnny turned and started walking toward the saloon. “You fellows wanta’ go with me?”

“Let’s just get back to the ranch,” Scott took hold of Johnny’s arm, while his eyes silently pleaded with his brother to agree.  “Please.”

“Said I want a beer, Boston.”  Johnny pulled his arm away.  “You want to go back, go ahead.  Take the boys with you.”

“Alright, Johnny,” Scott conceded, “one beer.” He looked at the four hands with them. “Come on, men, we’re getting a beer.”  

Frank, Walt, and Joe grinned.  It was not often they got a beer in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week.  Juan hesitated.  He didn’t want to have trouble today.  He knew that if he went to the saloon, there would be trouble.

“I heard Ed has a new bartender,” Joe said as they made their way across the street to the saloon.

Scott stopped in the middle of the street and looked at Johnny’s back.  He always hated it when the saloon changed bartenders.

The group got to the saloon doors.  Joe started to enter and felt Johnny’s hand on his shoulder.  Johnny pulled him gently back and smiled at him.  Johnny stepped up to the doors.

Joe looked at Scott.

“Johnny likes to go in first, Joe,” Scott said.  

Joe just nodded and moved aside.

Johnny pushed the batwing doors open and looked around. Several men were sitting at tables and a couple at the bar. Satisfied there was no danger, he pushed through the doors and made his way to a table in the back corner, sitting with his back to the wall.  Scott and the four men joined him. 

The bartender watched the men come in.  He walked to the table in a huff, “You two need to leave. We don’t serve your kind here,” he said, looking at Johnny and Juan.

The saloon had gotten quiet.  All eyes had turned to Johnny.  Juan had started to stand, and Johnny took his arm and pulled him back down.

“Juan, you’re not going anywhere,” Johnny said as he stared at the bartender.

Johnny pushed his hat back.

“What kind would that be, mister?” Johnny asked softly.

“Mexicans and half breeds,” the bartender answered with his hands on his hips.

A murmur ran through the room.  Scott and the others pushed back from the table.

“Johnny,” Scott said as he saw the expression on his brother’s face, “you promised.” 

Johnny glanced at Scott and smiled.

“I remember, brother,” Johnny answered.   He took a breath and turned to the bartender.  “I take it you’re new here?”  

“I’m new here, but we still don’t serve your kind,” the bartender answered, crossing his arms over his chest.  Realizing the room had gone deathly quiet, he looked around. 

Johnny sighed.  “Mister, I really don’t want trouble today.  To tell the truth, I made a promise I would stay out of trouble today.”

“Sir, I don’t think you know that the policy in this saloon is a little different than you’re used to,” Scott tried to intervene.  “Why don’t you just bring us six beers?” 

The bartender turned back to the bar.  When he returned, he had four beers.  He sat them in front of everyone, except Johnny and Juan.

The corner of Johnny’s mouth turned up.

“Now, go back and get two more,” Johnny’s voice was a soft drawl.

“No, I don’t think I will.”

“God, I hate breaking in new bartenders,” Johnny’s voice turned to ice, and his eyes went dark.   “Bring the beers.  Bring them now.” 

A chill went through the bartender as he watched the change come over the half breed.  He turned to the bar to get the beers. 

Once at the bar, one of the regulars leaned over and whispered something.  The bartender’s face turned several shades of red before going pale.

When the bartender returned with the beers, he sat them down and muttered, “Sorry, Mr. Madrid.  It won’t happen again.”

Johnny looked at him. “It’s Lancer, and I’m sure it won’t,” he said with not a hint of emotion. 

Johnny lifted his beer and took a long drink.  The others let out a breath they had been holding and started drinking their beer.   Johnny smiled.  It felt good to be Johnny Madrid.

As they left the bar, Johnny tossed a few coins on the bar and tipped his hat to the barman.

“See you Saturday night,” he said as he pushed the doors open, stepping onto the street.  Scott and the others following him.

Johnny found out later that Ed fired the bartender.


The last six weeks had been unusually quiet.  Except for Bixby, there had been no other signs of trouble.  Johnny expected fields burnt, cut fences, cattle stampedes, ambushes every day, but there had been nothing.

Not for the first time, Johnny thought, “What if Benton had been wrong, or just lied, about someone trying to make a play for Lancer?”

As he prepared for the day, Johnny looked out his window.  It promised to be a beautiful day.

The early October days were starting to get shorter and there was cooler air moving into the valley.  A slightly weaker morning sun could be seen peeking over the mountains, revealing a morning mist that hung close to the ground.  As the sky turned to blue, light billowing clouds floated overhead.   

Since the day of the gunfights, the hands had gotten used to seeing Johnny wear his pink shirt every day.  The only problem was Johnny only had the one shirt.  It had been mended and washed so many times the threads were starting to show and the color badly faded.

It was a relief to Johnny when Teresa presented him with three new shirts after finding material close to the color of the original. The shirts even had embroidery down the front.  The new shirts didn’t have the ‘lived in feeling’ of the original but, they were getting there.

Johnny finished eating breakfast, stood, and stretched.  He absentmindedly placed a hand on his left side, feeling a twinge of pain that remained.  The movement didn’t escape either Murdoch or Scott, who were still seated at the table.

“Well, are you two coming?” Johnny asked as he moved to the door.  Placing his hat on his head, he turned to see his father and brother following. 

“You are certainly in a hurry today, brother,” Scott said, taking his hat.

“Just want to get started,” Johnny smiled.  “Who knows I might get done early today and head to town later.”

Murdoch and Scott looked at each other and then at Johnny.

“That sounds like an excellent idea,” Scott said.  “I may go along with you.  I may even buy.”

Johnny tilted his head back to look at Scott.  “Just want to make sure I stay out of trouble, Boston?”

“You do seem to attract it,” Murdoch took his hat and opened the door.  He had heard what happened at the saloon.

The three men stepped out into the bright morning.

Looking toward the corral, Johnny could see the men starting to gather.  He waited for Murdoch and Scott before moving toward the waiting men.

Since the gunfights, he hadn’t spent much time alone with any of the men, except for the ‘chosen.’  He no longer felt comfortable around the hands and was sure they didn’t feel comfortable around him.  So much had been said about him that day in the yard, too much.

It was one thing to think you know something about a person and another to know, for a fact, it was true.  He felt the men were always watching him.  There was no doubt in his mind they wanted anything to do with him.

Johnny had only taken two steps when he saw a cloud of dust forming on the road leading to the house.   He could see six men riding in. 

He stopped and waited.  The horses stopped at the edge of the yard.  Johnny didn’t recognize anyone, but he did know the type.  They were gunhawks.

Cipriano stepped out to meet the riders and turned to look toward the house.  Frank and Walt stood at the corral, watching.

“This can’t be good,” Walt said as he looked toward the house.

“Damn,” Joe could be heard from the middle of the group. 

Frank looked up to see Johnny standing in front of the house with Scott and Murdoch.  

That’s when it happened.  No one had expected it, nor would ever forget it.

“AIN’T HAPPENING,” Johnny’s voice boomed across the yard, drawing the attention of the riders and the men in the yard.

The men saw Johnny walking toward them in long, even strides.  His right hand was resting on the butt of his Colt.  His hat was pushed off his head, bouncing against his back, being held by the stampede strings.

All the time he kept marching forward, his face was one of pure rage and fury contrasted by the color of his shirt. 

Johnny didn’t slow down.  The only sound was that of his spurs, as his heels hit the ground.

“There ain’t no way in hell this is happening,” his said in a loud, icy voice as he walked.  His words slow, even, and unyielding.  “No way, this is happening again.  Not here and, not now!”

He stopped in front of the riders.  The men were trying to control their horses.  Men, both in the saddle and on the ground, looked on in surprise and fear, seeing the cold hard eyes of the man speaking.

“You want to do this; we do it in town.  Not here.  Never, ever again here,” Johnny’s voice had gone Madrid. 

“You go back to town and spread the word.  I’ll be in Green River tomorrow afternoon at 1:00.  I’ll take on all comers.  One at a time or all at once, don’t matter to me.  This ends tomorrow, one way or another.”

He took one breath and his hand wrapped around the butt of his gun.

“Now, get the hell off my land and don’t come back.”

The riders just looked at each other, reigned their horses around, and rode off.   The men in the yard remained frozen, afraid to move.

Johnny’s face was still fixed, dark with anger.  His heart was pounding, and he was breathing hard.

Murdoch walked up behind his son slowly.  Careful not to touch him.

“John,” he said softly. 

Johnny shoulders tensed, but he didn’t turn around.

“John,” Murdoch spoke again softly. 

Johnny took a breath, relaxed his arms, and let his hand fall from the butt of the Colt.  He lowered his head.  As he turned to his father, his face relaxed, and Johnny Lancer was back.

Johnny looked at the men standing around him.  He lowered his head and shook it.  “Sorry,” was all he could say, almost like a small boy who had thrown a temper tantrum.  The men relaxed but were still staring at Johnny.

Scott moved to his brother’s side. “You certainly know how to start a day,” Scott said, looking at Johnny’s downturned face.

“Well,” Johnny raised his head, and a smile crossed it.  He looked at Frank and Walt, “you know how dynamite can get.”

Murdoch smiled at his son and then turned to give the work assignments as if nothing had happened.   He noted the men were still staring at Johnny.

“Cipriano, I think we have work to do,” Murdoch looked at the Segundo.

“Si, Patron,” he turned to the men.  “You have your assignments.”   

“Johnny, do you…?” Murdoch looked at his son, suddenly seeming so very young.

“I’ll go out with one of the crews,” Johnny looked at Cipriano. “Cip, who do you want me with?”

Cipriano looked at him, surprised. “You go with Frank’s crew.  They are riding the fence on the south pasture.”

Johnny nodded and walked to the barn to get Barranca.

“Frank,” Murdoch said, looking around, “make it an early day.  I’d like John back in time for lunch.  I think he may also need to get some rest this afternoon.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Lancer,” Frank replied as he turned to get his horse.

“Scott, I want you back by lunch also.”  Murdoch turned to look at his oldest.  He then looked at his Segundo. “Cipriano, try to get everyone back early.”

“Si, Patron,” Cipriano answered and mounted his horse.

Soon Murdoch was left standing alone in the yard.  His heart so heavy he wanted to cry.  Once again, they had come for his son.

‘When is this going to stop?’

He lowered his head and went back into the house.


Since the day of the gunfight, no man had ridden alone on the range.  Cipriano tried to keep work crews to at least three men.                                                                                              

Frank, Joe, Johnny, and Jacobs rode the fence line somewhat slower than usual.  Frank was letting Johnny set the pace. 

They had been out about an hour when Johnny pulled up. He lowered his head, took a deep breath, and took his hat off, placing it on the saddle horn in front of him.  The others pulled up behind him.

“Johnny, you alright?” Joe asked.

“Joe, I don’t know what I am anymore,” Johnny grunted.  He threw his leg over the saddle horn and slid to the ground.  Putting both hands on his hips, he bent forward slightly and felt the pull in his side.  Straightening, he looked out over the range. 

Frank dismounted and walked to Johnny. “You still hurting?” he whispered.

“No,” Johnny lied, “just need to release some of the tension.”

He looked around at the three men.    

“You need to be alone, Johnny?” Frank followed Johnny’s eyes.  Jacobs was the only man with them that he didn’t entirely trust.

Thankful for the offer, he replied, “Yeah.  Why don’t you go on ahead?  I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

After the men had ridden ahead, Johnny sat down on the ground, drew his legs to him, and placed his head on his knees. 

His past had come again to plague him.  At least this time, he would fight on his terms and at the place of his choosing.  In town, none of Lancer’s men would get hurt.

He looked out over Lancer.  The gently rolling plains and the tall mountains.  The streams and lakes.  This land was his.  Something he could be proud of and claim as his own.

He smiled.  It was his birthright, and he had found pride and satisfaction in working this land.  He fought the emotions he knew were coming.  After a few minutes, he stood up.

‘No way. I don’t have time for this.’

Johnny mounted and rejoined the crew.  

“Better?” Frank asked as Johnny caught up with them.

“Better,” Johnny answered with a smile.

Johnny pulled up to stop again.  He looked at the three men.  “Jacobs, I want to ask you something, and I want an honest answer.”

“What do you need to know, Johnny?” Jacobs answered, taking his hat off.

“I need to know how the men feel right now.  Will they fight for Lancer if there be a need?” 

Jacobs took a few seconds and then looked at Johnny.  “Don’t you mean, will the men fight for you, Johnny?”

Johnny looked at Jacobs and nodded.  “I suppose that is what I’m asking.  Hell, I know the men can’t stand to look at me anymore.  I see them watching me as if they’re afraid I’m gonna gun them down.  I need to know if they’ll take my orders if a fight starts up.”

“Johnny…,” Frank started, but Johnny put up a hand.

“Frank, I know where you and Joe stand.  I need to know about the others.”

Johnny looked back at Jacobs.

“Johnny, I’m gonna be honest with you.” Jacobs readjusted himself in the saddle.  “No one likes everyone all the time.  There may be some that might not like you because you’re the Patron’s son or because you’re half Mex, or well because you’re a gunhawk.”

Jacobs looked down and then back at the blue eyes of the man sitting across from him.

“Johnny, I don’t know why you think the men can’t stand to look at you.  You had 60 men watching you that day in, what I can only describe as total amazement.  Every man that matters wants to be around you.  The way you’ve been acting, we thought you were mad at us for something.  If you see the men watching you, it’s because they need you to look at them and talk to them.” 

Jacobs looked at Johnny’s face.  He could see his features relax.

“Johnny, it was you doing the fighting that day, but we were the ones holding our breaths every time you faced one of those men.  It was us praying you wouldn’t end up in a grave.  We were watching your back just like Cipriano said.  I heard it called moral support.  Don’t know if you could feel it that day or not, but you had the emotional support of all of us.”

Johnny didn’t say anything.

“You weren’t the only one affected that day either,” Jacobs continued, “We all were.  The men need you right now as much as you needed them that day.  So, to answer your question, yes.  If you give the orders, the men will gladly follow them.”

“You all learned some things about me that day,” Johnny said, “some things I… well, I would wish hadn’t been said out loud.  I just don’t know that they can accept me knowing those things.  Hell, I know I have a hard time accepting myself sometimes.”

“Johnny, the men heard things that they had only guessed at about your past.  Just look at it this way.  We don’t have to guess anymore.  Isn’t it better to have them know something first hand, instead of listenin’ to rumors?

“There were always things we didn’t talk about in the bunkhouse.  You being Madrid was one of them.   Now, we know.  Hell, now it’s kinda’ like we don’t have nothin’ to gossip about,” he smiled.   

“You gossip about me?” Johnny said with a frown.

“Only nice gossip,” Frank jumped in, fearing Madrid was rearing his head. 

Johnny laughed.  “Ok, let’s get this job done.  My old man will tan my hide if I don’t get back on time.  You know he kinda’ scares me.”

The three men laughed.  The sight of Murdoch tanning Johnny Madrid’s rear end would be a sight to behold.     


Murdoch watched the hands on the grandfather clock slowly move to 12.  It wasn’t long before he heard the sound of footsteps entering the front door.  Both of his sons entered the Great Room at the same time, laughing.

“I’m starving.” Johnny was smiling and rubbing his hands together.  “What we having today?”

Murdoch stood and moved across the Great Room to the dining room table. “I think Maria made fried chicken.”

“That sounds good.  Kinda’ heavy for lunch, but I’m not complaining.”

Johnny took his place at the table.

“Did you get anything accomplished this morning?” Scott asked while as he passed the potatoes.

“You mean before or after orders?” Johnny answered, looking at his father.  He took the potatoes. 

“After,” Scott replied.

“Sure. We rode that entire line.  It is in pretty good shape.  You’ll want to replace a few strands in the spring, but other than that, you shouldn’t have any problems,” Johnny answered as he started to eat.

It didn’t escape either Murdoch or Scott that Johnny had referred to the work on the fence as work they would be doing, not him.

“What about you, Scott,” Murdoch asked.

“The stream bed in the south pasture needs cleaning out again,” Scott replied as he took his first bit.  “I believe Johnny and I can get it cleaned out next week.  It shouldn’t take much time.”

Johnny didn’t say anything.  He just kept eating, keeping his eyes on his plate.

The rest of the lunch went by without conversation.  Maria and Teresa moved in and out of the room, bringing more coffee and a glass of milk for Johnny.

Johnny stood and stretched.  “I’m going out and rub down Barranca.  I think he’d like that.”

Murdoch and Scott nodded as they watched Johnny leave the room.                                   

Once they heard the front door close, Scott turned to Murdoch and sighed.  “My God, Murdoch, what are we going to do?”

Murdoch turned to look at his eldest son.  He shook his head and then looked down at his hands.

“I don’t know, son.  I don’t know what we can do. We almost lost him six weeks ago; I don’t even want to think of what could happen tomorrow.  It’s your brother’s play but the one thing I know is we can’t get in the middle of it.”

“We may not be able to stop what’s about to happen, but we can make sure that it is a fair fight,” Scott said.  “I’m taking some of the men to town tomorrow.  We’re going to make sure no one tries to… what did Johnny say?  Change the rules.”

“Scott, that day that Johnny couldn’t breathe and Sam had to operate, Johnny said some things,” Murdoch hesitated.

“What kind of things?”

“Scott, Johnny was scared.  He couldn’t breathe and was convinced he was going to die.  He just kept saying that the Devil wasn’t going to get him like that,” Murdoch shook his head.  “He said the Devil had promised him that it was always supposed to be a bullet.”

“He was out of his head, Murdoch,” Scott answered, looking at his father.  “You said yourself he was fighting you the whole time.  He wasn’t thinking straight.”

Murdoch only nodded.


Scott found his brother in the barn brushing Barranca.  He watched for a few minutes as Johnny’s hand went over the horse’s flanks.

Johnny stopped brushing and put his head against the horse’s neck.   Barranca raised and lowered his head, pushing toward Johnny’s head.

Johnny laughed and scratched the horse’s ears.  “You like that, don’t you, fellow?”  Johnny went back to brushing.  “You gonna stand there all day, or do you want to come on over?”

“It always amazes me that you know everything that’s happening around you all the time,” Scott said as he moved to lean against Barranca’s stall.

“Kept me alive this long,” Johnny answered.

“Johnny…,” Scott started.

“Don’t!” Johnny looking toward Scott.  He took a deep breath and let it out. “I can’t stop tomorrow any more than I can stop the sun from rising.  I don’t want you and the old man there, but I know you’re going to be there anyway.”

“Yes, we will be there.  I may not be able to stop this or to help you, but I will be there for support.”

“You mean like moral support?” Johnny asked, remembering what Jacobs had said.

“Exactly.” Scott wondered where his brother had heard of moral support. “I’m also going to make sure it is a fair fight.”

“How you gonna do that?”

Johnny moved over to sit on a bale of hay.

“I’m taking some of the hands into town tomorrow.” He raised his hands to stop Johnny’s protest.  “No, listen… no one from Lancer is going to interfere with the ‘dance’ tomorrow.  We are going to make sure no one else does either.”

“Make sure no one interferes, even you and Murdoch.  I can’t be distracted,” Johnny stated as he saw the look on his brother’s face.

“Johnny, I don’t know how you do it.  How can you be so calm?”

“Because it doesn’t do any good to worry about it, Boston.” Johnny looked down.  “I made my peace with death years ago.  I know what could happen tomorrow, most probably will happen.  I’ve never had regrets before.  Now I … well, I wish you, and I could have had more time.”

Scott reached over squeezed Johnny’s arm.  “I know, little brother,” Scott said, holding back his emotions. “I know.”


When Johnny and Scott left the barn, they found ranch hands milling around the yard and leaning against the corral fence.  The men looked at Johnny as he walked by.  He could tell that some of the men wanted to say something but had changed their minds.

Johnny took a few steps and looked out at the faces watching him.  He stopped to see Cipriano coming up behind him.  

Johnny took a breath and dipped his head.

Johnny looked up. “Scott tells me he’s taking some of you to town tomorrow ahead of me.  I’ll understand anyone not wanting to go. I want you to know that the only reason that you’ll be there is to make sure no one interferes.  You can’t stop what’s going to happen, and I don’t want you to try.  None of you are part of this.  I don’t want to have to worry about anyone of you getting hurt.”

“Juanito.” Cipriano stepped forward. “You must not be concerned with anyone else tomorrow, except yourself.  We will be there to watch your back.”

Johnny nodded.  “Thank you, Tio.  Just so you all know that whoever is left standing tomorrow rides away free and clear.  Understood?”

Heads were nodding in agreement.

Johnny walked over to the corral and leaned against it, smiling.  The men seemed to move closer to him, and he felt it. 

“Alright,” Johnny smiled, “so who wants a few hands of poker later?  I need to practice for an hour or two but wouldn’t mind a hand or two before dinner.”

“Johnny,” Bud spoke up, “can a few of the boys and me come to watch you practice?”  

Johnny’s head shot up. “Bud, I don’t normally have an audience when I’m practicing.”

“What if we promise to be really quiet, Brother,” Scott spoke up, grinning.  There were nods from men all around him.

Johnny just shrugged.  “It’s kinda’ boring if you want the truth but if you want to watch then, alright.  Since you’re watching, there is no need for me to ride out to practice.  I’ll set up targets out behind the barn.”

It took close to 30 minutes for Johnny to set up.  As he looked around, he saw what appeared to be all of the Lancer men both standing and sitting behind him.  “I’m telling you fellows there are more exciting things than watching me.”

“I seriously doubt that,” Scott laughed as he took a seat on the ground, several feet behind his brother.

Johnny put a black calfskin glove on his left hand before he moved into position in front of the targets. The glove helped to protect his hand when fanning the hammer of his gun. 

He started his routine as he always did. 

An hour into the practice session, Scott spoke up, “So… brother, do you ever actually fire that gun?”

“Eventually,” Johnny answered, looking over his shoulder.  “I told you it was boring.”

“Well, so far, I would have to agree with you,” Scott laughed.

Finally, Johnny came to the point where he was going to draw and fire.  He did so, taking one target at a time on each slow draw.  Bud volunteered to reset the targets for him.

The next time he drew, he hit 6 of the targets fanning the gun as he did.

Now the men were paying attention. 

Johnny looked around.  Everyone was watching him.  He took a breath, lowered his head, then raising his head, a smile crossed his face.  He repeated a slower version of the draw he’d used on Gibbons. 

Twice more he repeated the draw each time faster than the one before. 

He could hear whispers from the men standing around.

Johnny reloaded the Colt and put it in the holster.  He just stood looking at the target.  A minute passed, and still, he looked at it.  He wrapped his arms around himself, using his left hand to massage his right arm.   He stretched his back, feeling the pull in his side.

Some of the men started to get up and started talking, assuming the practice session was over.

Johnny raised a hand.  “Hold on.  I’m ain’t done yet.  You wanted to watch me practice.  Now sit down and be quiet.”

Instantly, there was silence as men sat back down.

Scott was watching Johnny closely.  Johnny turned his head to look at Scott and then glanced at the men behind him.  Finally, as if making up his mind, he took a breath, lowered his head and Madrid came to visit.

One last time he crouched, cocking the Colt as he drew, fired, and re-holstered the gun faster than ever before.  The entire movement appeared to be nothing more than a blur. Johnny had to admit that it had been faster than he could ever remember. 

A stunned silence hung in the air.

This time, once his gun was back in his holster, he spun around on his right foot, rubbing his hands together and asked, “So, who wants in on that poker game?”  A grin crossed his face.

“Impressive,” Scott clapped his hands together.

Johnny did a little bow.  “Glad you liked it, Boston.”

Johnny looked around and saw Murdoch standing at the side of the barn.  His father had watched him practice.  He didn’t know how he felt about that.

Johnny started to walk by his father.  When he was even with him, he stopped and looked up at him.

“Well, what did you think, old man?  Think I have a chance tomorrow?”  He lowered his head, looking at the ground.

“Never had a doubt,” Murdoch answered, reaching out and putting his hand on Johnny’s shoulder.

Johnny’s head came up, and his eyes meet Murdoch’s.  He thought he saw a spark of pride in his father’s eyes.


The rest of the day went quickly.  Scott and Johnny played poker with the men in the bunkhouse for several hours, then went to the house for dinner.

Maria had done herself proud with all of Johnny’s favorite dishes.  It turned out to be a quiet dinner.

“That sure was good, Mamacita,” Johnny said as Maria picked up his plate. 

“Gracias.”   Maria patted his back.

After dinner, Murdoch moved to the Great Room and picked up a glass and poured himself a whiskey.

“Want a drink, Scott?  John?”

“Whiskey,” Scott answered.

“Tequila,” Johnny said.

Johnny sank onto the sofa, taking his drink when Murdoch offered it to him. 

All three men looked around when they heard a horse approach the front of the house.  Scott moved to look out the French doors. 

“It’s Val.”

Val saw Scott waving him into the house.

Val walked into the room and put his hat down on the table behind the sofa.

“Wondering where you were.”  Johnny’s eyes stayed on his drink.

“I didn’t get back into town until about 2 hours ago.” Val moved to stand in front of Johnny with his arms crossed over his chest.

Johnny didn’t look up.  However, he could tell from the tone of Val’s voice that he was pissed.

“Imagine my surprise when I heard that you were going to be in town tomorrow afternoon at 1:00.  Seems there’s talk that Johnny Lancer is going to take on all those gunhawks all by himself,” Val spat the words out.

Johnny ducked his head, “How many are we talking about?”

Val walked over and helped himself to a drink.  “Someone has hired 25 or 30 men.  There are only seven or eight of those you’re going to have to worry about.   The seven or eight I’m talking about are true gunhawks.”

Johnny nodded and took another sip of the drink. “Better than I thought it would be.”

“Are you out of your damn mind, Boy?” Val suddenly raised his voice and moved closer to Johnny, causing Murdoch and Scott to jump.

“Aw, come on, Val.”  Johnny looked up at his friend.  “Not all of them are gonna call me out at the same time.  I’ll thin them out one at a time before the rest decide to make their move.”

Val just shook his head.  “You can take care of the gunhawks, but I sure as hell ain’t letting you face down 20 hired killers, at one time, by yourself.”

Johnny didn’t say anything.

Val took a sip of his drink, trying to control his temper. He looked at Murdoch and Scott.   “So, what do you two have to say about this?  You gonna let him ride into town tomorrow?”

“Val, if we could stop him, don’t you think we would?  I think you know better than we do that we can’t stop him if he’s made up his mind to go,” Scott answered.  “Am I right?”

Val closed his eyes and looked away.   Scott was right.  When Madrid made up his mind to do something, there was no stopping him. He knew he couldn’t stop the boy and short of hogtying him, there would be no way to keep him out of town.

He took a few steps away from Johnny before speaking again.  “You know you asked a while back if there was anyone new in town.  I’ve seen this one man that goes by the name of Matt Wilson.  Figure he’s the one who’s doing the hiring.  Saw a couple of the gunhawks in town talking to him.”

“When I finish up tomorrow, I’ll talk with this Matt Wilson.  About time we knew who’s behind this and why?” Johnny answered.

“Johnny, I can’t watch them all.” Val stared at Johnny.  “There are too many of them.”

“I know, Val.  Besides, Scott has figured that out,” Johnny answered. “Tell him, Scott.”

“Val, I’m taking 20 or 30 hands into town tomorrow.  They’ll be spread out along the street.  We’ll make sure it’s a fair fight.”

Val turned to look at Johnny.  Johnny was staring a hole in his glass.  “You have any problem with that?”

“At least you won’t have to watch them all,” Johnny smiled. “The hands know not to interfere.”

Val nodded.  He finished his drink and set the glass down.  “Well, guess I’d better get back to town. You want to walk me out, Johnny.”

Johnny pushed off the sofa and set his glass down.  He followed Val out the door.

“Val, you see anybody in town we know?” Johnny asked when they got to Val’s horse.

“A few,” Val said stroking his horses’ neck, “Bob Johnson, Charlie Sims, Billy Stone, and Red Gordon.  Recognize a couple more, but don’t know their names.”

“How about those seven or eight you were talking about?” Johnny was scrapping the ground with the toe of his boot.

“Not sure who they are.” Val reached and took Johnny’s arm. “I’ll see you tomorrow.  You get some rest tonight.”

Johnny nodded.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Val reluctantly let his friend’s arm go.  “Gotta’ go.”

Johnny watched Val ride away and then walked back into the house. 

“I’m going to bed,” Scott set his glass down and started upstairs, “see you upstairs later, brother.”

Johnny nodded to him.

Murdoch sat in the large chair next to the fireplace.  Johnny walked over and leaned on the mantel.   He turned his head slightly to see his father’s face. 

“Murdoch?” Johnny said, turning around and wrapping his arms around himself.

“Yes, son,” Murdoch looked up.

“Thank you,” Johnny sighed.

“For what, John?” Murdoch cocked his head.

“For being there when I needed you most.”

“When was that?” Murdoch asked, confused.

“Oh, when I was about 60 seconds away from a firing squad,” Johnny grinned.

That grin.  Murdoch’s heart fluttered.  The face of his son melted his heart.  Emotion filled Murdoch’s eyes, and he looked away.  “Glad I’ve been good for something, son.” 

Johnny squatted down beside his father’s chair.

“Murdoch, you know I meant it that night in my room?  You know when we were both on the floor?  You know I love you.”  He wanted to take his father’s hand but hesitated. “I know we’ve butted heads a lot, but you kinda’ grew on me when I wasn’t looking.”

Murdoch clasped Johnny’s hand in both of his.    He then reached up with one hand and put it alongside his son’s face and stroked his cheek.  Johnny laid his head into the hand.         

“I love you, son.  Never, ever doubt that.  I love you and always will,” Murdoch said as a tear rolled down his cheek.  He wiped a tear from Johnny’s cheek.  Leaning forward and pulled his son to his chest.

They sat like that for some time. 

Johnny finally looked at Murdoch and once again smiled.

“I need to get to bed,” he said as he pulled away.  “Big day tomorrow and I need my beauty sleep.” 

He stood up, letting go of Murdoch’s hand. Taking the stairs two at a time, Johnny didn’t look back.

Johnny stopped at Scott’s door and opened it without knocking.  He knew his brother would be waiting for him.  Scott was stretched out on the bed, fully clothed.

“You and Murdoch have a good talk?” Scott rolled over onto his side.

“Talked a little,” Johnny said as he sat on the edge of the bed. “Scott, make sure…. well, make sure if …”

“Johnny, you don’t have to worry about Murdoch.  I’ll be here and so will you.  I’m not giving up on you, brother,” Scott said as he scooted over to the edge of the bed.  Scott pulled Johnny to him.

“Thanks, brother. Thanks for everything.  I really, really like having a big brother, you know.”

“I like having a little brother,” Scott released Johnny. “Don’t you think you should get some rest?” 

“Yeah,” Johnny pushed off the bed, “see you in the morning.”


Johnny stepped out of Scott’s room.  A movement at the end of the hallway caught his attention.  He turned to see Teresa looking at him.

He held out his arms, and she flew to him.  He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him. 

She grabbed the front of his shirt in her hands and looked up at him.  There were tears in her eyes.

“Don’t cry, querida,” Johnny softly said as he wiped a tear from her cheek.

“Don’t go tomorrow.  Please don’t go.”  Teresa buried her face into his chest.

“Teresa, you know I have to,” he whispered, leaning his cheek against the top of her head.

“Promise you’ll come back,” she sniffled.  “Promise me.”

“Teresa…,” he started to say.

“No, Johnny, please promise me.” She knew he never broke a promise.

“Teresa, I can’t…. I can’t make that promise,” Johnny answered. “I will promise I’ll try.” 

She pushed herself back and nodded.  “Johnny, you try really hard.  I can’t lose you, too.”

He nodded and kissed her forehead.  Teresa put a hand against his face and took a deep breath.

She stepped away from him.

He watched as she turned and walked away.

Johnny opened the door to his room and stepped inside.

He laid on the bed and looked at the ceiling.  Sleep was not going to come, and he knew it.  He got up and took off his shirt and boots.  He moved to the chair next to the window and laid his head on his hands on the sill.  He sat for a very long time staring at the stars.


Johnny stood up and stretched.  At some point during the night, he’d finally moved to the bed and dozed off sometime in the early hours of the morning.

He dressed, knowing already what he was going to look like today.  He was dressing, more than likely, for the last time as Johnny Madrid.

The sound of Johnny’s spurs preceded him as he walked downstairs to find Murdoch and Scott already in the kitchen getting coffee.   Teresa was at the stove.  He took a cup and sat down at the table in the kitchen.

‘Coffee tastes pretty good,’ he thought.

“You want eggs this morning, Johnny?” Teresa asked, trying to smile. 

“No,” Johnny answered quickly, his stomach flipped at the thought of food. “No, thanks anyway. Not real hungry this morning.  Coffee’s fine.”

Scott picked up a piece of toast and started to eat it.  Looking at the toast in his hand, he laid it down.  He didn’t have an appetite either.

After a quiet breakfast, Johnny began pacing back and forth slowly across the Great Room.  The sound of spurs continually ringing.   He suddenly stopped and headed for the front door.  He needed to prepare himself, and this wasn’t getting it done. 

He took his hat, jacket, and rig and turned.  Scott and Murdoch were standing next to Teresa.

“Take care of each other,” he said in a soft voice.

Turning, he opened the door and was gone.

Teresa burst into tears and fell into Scott’s arms.   Murdoch sat at his desk and stared into space.

Scott pushed Teresa from him and looked at her face.

“It’ll be alright, Teresa.  We’ll bring him home tonight.”

She nodded.   ‘Just make sure he’s alive.’


Johnny stepped out onto the veranda and looked around.  He took a deep breath and sauntered toward the barn in slow even strides.  It seemed like every hand on the place was between him and the barn.  He nodded to anyone he met.

“Hey, Johnny, you doing alright today?” Bud asked.

“Not bad, Bud.  You?” Johnny answered, stopping next to the young man.

“Doing just fine. Say, I’m planning on going to town later today.  I’d like to buy you a beer if you have time,” Bud smiled.

“That sounds real good, Bud.  Real good.  Maybe some of the other fellows would like to join us,” Johnny replied, looking around the yard seeing heads raise and eyes meeting his.  “You know, I’ve been acting out of sorts lately.  I think a night in town with some good friends just might be what I need.”

“Any time, Johnny,” Bud answered, “any time.”

Johnny saddled Barranca and led him out of the barn.  As he mounted, he looked around and nodded to the men.  He slowly walked Barranca to the edge of the yard, before kicking the palomino’s sides and riding away. 

He rode to the copse of trees where he practiced.  He didn’t need to practice now; he did need to be alone.  He needed to find his center. 

He paced a few minutes, then turned and drew, firing at the bottles he had set up along the top of the fallen trees.  Just the fact he was able to release the tension he was feeling made a difference.

Johnny knew he could not be thinking about Murdoch, Scott or Teresa at this moment.  He didn’t need the weight on him that relationships put on a gunhawk.

He looked at the sun and then pulled out his pocket watch.  Holding the prized watch tightly in his hand, he remembered the day Murdoch had given it to him. Time to go.  Taking a deep breath, he put the watch away. He mounted Barranca and turned toward town.


Val stood in front of the sheriff’s office and watched Murdoch and Scott ride in.  They had 30 men riding behind them.  Val smiled.  Scott had them riding two abreast, almost looking like a cavalry troop.

Stopping in the middle of town, Scott motioned for them to dismount and spread out along the street.  They had discussed before leaving the ranch how he had wanted the men placed.  He also reminded them once again that they were only there to watch Johnny’s back.  Johnny would take care of the men he was going to face.

Gunfighters and townspeople alike stepped out onto the boardwalks.  The saloon emptied as Lancer men started spreading out. 

It was close to 12:30 when Scott walked out into the middle of the street with Val by his side.  He looked down the thoroughfare before nodding to Val.

“My name’s Val Crawford,” his voice carried along the street.  “I’m the Sheriff in this town.  This here’s Scott Lancer.  The men you see on the roofs and along the street work for Lancer.  They’re here to make sure that the only gunplay that takes place today is in the street.  Anyone here has any other ideas; they need to think twice.”

Scott nodded his head and then spoke out, “I would appreciate those of you who are here to call my brother out today, to come over here.”

Val looked at him as if he were crazy.

“Why?” someone yelled.

“Well, Johnny wants to make sure that he has your names and the spelling is correct.  I think it is a waste of time myself, but Johnny feels your headstones should have your name spelled correctly, and so we can notify your next of kin if you have any,” Scott stated firmly.  “Also, we want to make sure we know your names in case one of you happens to take his reputation.”

A smile came across Val’s face.  If he could have laughed out loud, he would have.

“What reputation?” someone was heard yelling out.

“What reputation?” Scott looked confused, “Johnny’s reputation, of course.”

There was silence on the street.

“You do know who you are calling out?” Scott asked, turning toward Val.  “Sheriff, I don’t believe some of these men know who they’re here to call out.”

Val looked at Scott and then at the men in the street.

Frowning, Val yelled. “You mean to tell me that you jackasses don’t know who you’re calling out?”

“Some rancher’s kid by the name of Johnny Lancer,” another voice was heard.  “What kind of reputation has he got?”

“Charlie Simms, was that you who just said that?” Val yelled out.  “Well, I’ll tell you who you’re facing down today.  You’ve been hired to face down Johnny Madrid.”

A hush fell over the town. 

“Jake Benton killed Madrid,” someone stated.

Val laughed, as did most of the Lancer men.  “Johnny buried Jake Benton six weeks ago,” Val yelled back.                                                                             

“Nobody could take Benton,” another voice called out.

“Wrong,” Val laughed.  “Johnny Madrid took his reputation six weeks ago along with Jerry Gibbons from New Mexico and Harry Lincoln and Joe Simpson from Arizona.  Now, who exactly is here to call out Madrid?  We still need your names.” 

Val smiled at Scott.

Eight men walked out from the rest.  It was the eight Val knew it would be.  Scott took a pencil and wrote their names down. 

“Now, when you face Johnny, I would appreciate it if you would tell him who you are so I can keep track.”

The look on the faces of the gunhawks was priceless. Val tried hard not to laugh.


Johnny rode to the outskirts of Green River.

Looking at his watch and realizing he was early; he dismounted and spent the time talking to Barranca.  He knew the horse knew what he was saying.  Every once in a while, Johnny would say something, and Barranca would throw his head up and down agreeing with him.

He looked toward town and then at the watch. Johnny settled his hat on his head, pulling it down over his eyes, just as the town clock struck 1:00.   Mounting, he sat straight up in the saddle as he rode slowly into town.

Although his eyes were straight ahead, he saw everything.  He saw townspeople on the boardwalk and gunhawks on either side of the street, recognizing many of the faces.  He also saw the men from Lancer on the rooftops and along the street front.   Looking ahead and to his right, his eyes found Murdoch standing next to Sam near the center of town.  In the middle of the street stood Val and Scott.

Johnny stopped near Scott and dismounted.

“Everything alright here?” he asked, tying Barranca to a hitching post.

“Just fine, brother.  Actually, better than fine,” Scott answered with a grin.  “It appears the majority, if not all, of these men, had no idea who they were calling out.  The only thing they’d been told was that they were facing a rancher’s kid named Johnny Lancer.  It appears that only eight of them want to meet you face to face.”

“Seriously?”  Johnny was surprised, wondering how Scott knew how many were going to face him today.

Smiling, Val and Scott were both nodding at him.

Johnny looked at Scott and nodded with a smile both in his voice and eyes.  “Thanks, Hermano.”

Suddenly, Johnny’s voice changed, “Well, it’s time to show them who they’re calling out.”  Johnny Lancer lowered his head.  When he raised it, Johnny Madrid stood in front of them.

Val and Scott looked at each other.

Watching Johnny turn away, Val whispered to Scott, “Scary, ain’t it?”  

“Yes, and very unnerving,” Scott replied. 

Johnny faced the way he’d come.  Charlie Sims was standing nearby next to Red Gordon. 

“Charlie. Red.  Either of you want any part of this today?” Johnny’s voice could have frozen a desert.

“Naw, Johnny,” Charlie answered.  “Didn’t know it was you.  We’re just fine where we are.”

Johnny saw Bob Johnson from Kansas standing further down the street.  He nodded, “Bob, it’s been a while. How about you?”

“No, Madrid, I’m fine with my own reputation, don’t need yours.  Good to see you again,” Johnson answered, tipping his hat.

Johnny felt some relief at hearing this.  He liked Johnson.  He’d met Bob Johnson back in ‘67 in Dodge City and had always thought he had a lot in common with the man.

Johnny looked out over the street.  In a voice that could only be that of Johnny Madrid, he declared, “I’m telling all of you right now I’m not going to waste time trying to talk you out of this.  If you decide to walk out in this street, know we’ll bury you here.”

Johnny looked around, “Whether I’m here when this is over or not, no one is going to try to take Lancer.  I suggest you ride out when this is over.”

There was a murmur among the gunhawks.

Johnny looked at Murdoch and then over his shoulder at Scott.  He looked back down the street.

“Whose first?” 


There was silence in the town as everyone waited to see what was going to happen.

A man stepped into the street about 30 feet from Johnny.  “I’m first, Madrid,” the man drawled.  “The name’s Buck Simpson.  You meet my kid brother six weeks ago.”

Johnny only nodded.  He remembered the man’s brother. 

Johnny moved further into the street with the sound of his spurs jingling.   He slowly put the black glove on his left hand and then lifted his hat and reset it.  It was then and only then that he turned and looked at Simpson.  He remembered that Joe Simpson’s ‘tell’ was his mouth.

‘Wonder if it runs in the family?’. 

They stood there only moments when Johnny saw the ‘tell.’  As he’d done with Gibbons six weeks earlier, he crouched, cocked his gun as he drew, leveled, fired, and returned the Colt to his holster in one motion.

Simpson’s gun never cleared the holster.

‘Just as slow as his brother.’.

Johnny looked up from Simpson’s body and merely said, “Next.”

The murmur that had started in the crowd died away. There was complete silence on the street as the next man stepped out.

“Name’s Larry Jackson,” the gunhawk announced.  Johnny wasn’t sure why this man had told him his name.

“I’ll see you in hell, Madrid.”

A smile crossed Johnny’s face. “I expect so, Jackson.  Every gunhawk on this street is bound for hell.  We sold our souls a long time ago.  You’re just gonna get there ahead of me.” 

“We’re fallen angels sent down to hell,” Jackson said with a smile.

“You hear that from Sexton Joe Hughes?” Johnny asked, remembering the night he’d killed Sexton Joe and Isham.

“Yeah, expect I did,” Jackson drawled.  “Heard you killed him, too.”

“Yep,” Johnny answered unblinkingly.

Jackson went for his gun.  He never made it.  Jackson was dead before he hit the ground.

“Val, mind getting those two out of the way?” Johnny asked, tilting his head toward the two fallen men.  Johnny reloaded his gun and placed it in his holster.

Val and Scott moved both bodies to the side.  Scott looked at his brother as he did.  Madrid never took his eyes off the street in front of him.                  

Scott looked up at the Lancer men to make sure everyone was still alert.  Six men still stood ready for their ‘dance’ with Johnny.

The next man stepped forward. “Jacob Lawson from Wyoming.”

Johnny nodded at Lawson.  For the third time, he repeated the ‘dance.’ Lawson was able to clear leather, but he didn’t get a chance to level his gun before Johnny’s bullet hit him. Lawson’s shot plowed into the ground in front of him.

Johnny watched as Lawson crumpled to the ground.  He walked over and kicked Lawson’s gun away and then watched as the light went out in the man’s eyes.

Johnny walked back to his place, gently scraping his boots on the ground and his spurs jingling.

A chill seemed to run the length of the street as the wind picked up and dust filled the air.

“Which one of you wants to be next to pay the devil his due?” Johnny’s eyes had turned black as coal.  The wind carried his voice.

Three of the five men left walked into the street.  Johnny took a deep breath.  It appeared that those who just wanted a reputation were gone.  These men were in it for the money only. 

Johnny took a stance calculating his odds.

A fourth man stepped out to join the other three.


“Val?” Scott started to step forward. 

“Can’t, Scott,” Val grabbed his arm.  “Leave it to me.”

Murdoch and Sam moved to the edge of the boardwalk.  Murdoch couldn’t believe what he was seeing.  An image of his son’s bullet-riddled body jumped into his mind.

Val moved forward to stand next to Johnny.

“Get away, Val,” Johnny said through clenched teeth.

“Listen, boys,” Val said to the four men, “I don’t have no problem with three of you to one.  Don’t expect Johnny will even break a sweat with three of you.  Four of you seems to be more on the line of ganging up on him.  Not sure I’m gonna let that happen.”

Val turned to Johnny. “What do you say, Johnny?  Have any problem with four of them at the same time?”

“Not really,” Johnny’s voice sounded a little bored.  “It just gets this over with sooner.  I promised to have a beer with some of the men and figure Matt Wilson over there is buying.  Need to have a long talk with him anyway.”   

He had no idea which man Matt Wilson was but figured he was standing on the sidelines watching.  The comment got the desired reaction.  The four men in front of him stirred and looked toward the man Johnny assumed was Wilson.

“Well, if you’re sure Johnny, I’ll let you get back to it.” Val moved off to stand by Scott.            

Scott looked around one more time and called out, “I want to remind everyone that the only gunplay is right here.  Anyone who tries to fire from anywhere else will be buried with the men already lying in the street.” 

The gunhawks stated their names to Johnny, looking at Scott as they spoke.  Lefty Sullivan from New Mexico, Clay Jordan from Texas, Jake Davidson from Arizona and, the last man to join the party was Vern McBride from Colorado.

Once again, Johnny wondered why they were telling him their names.  He saw them nod at Scott, and Scott was writing something. 

Johnny looked at the four men again, watching their faces.  There was no way he was going to be able to keep his eyes on at all of them at the same time.  This time it was going to have to be him who drew first.  For the first time, he used his own ‘tell.’

Johnny’s face was still hard and fixed then he let a smile creep across it.

At that moment that Johnny drew and, at the same time, crouched, cocked, leveled, and fired.  The first shot took out Jordan before he could clear leather.   Johnny fanned his gun and Sullivan, and McBride fell.

Davidson cleared his holster, leveled, and fired.  Johnny fired hitting Davidson in the chest just as Davidson’s bullet hit Johnny’s left side almost in the same place as the wound six weeks earlier.

A rifle shot rang out near the saloon.  The sound of a second shot quickly followed.  Two bullets hit the ground at Johnny’s feet.  Johnny rolled to the left side of the street.   

Val and Scott took cover.   Gunhawks were drawing their guns and taking cover as they turned toward the sound of the gunshots.  Lancer men started aiming at the gunhawks on the street, effectively keeping anyone from firing.  

There were several more rifle shots at the far end of the street.  As suddenly as the firing started, it stopped.

“Who’s firing?” Val yelled out as the street grew silent.

“It’s alright, Johnny,” Bud yelled, “I got him.  He won’t be trying to bushwhack you again.” 

Val stood up and yelled, “Everyone holster your guns.”

Slowly, men started standing and sliding their guns back into their holsters.

Johnny got to his feet, holding his side.  He walked over to the four men, now lying in the street.  He didn’t have to check them to know they were dead.

Johnny walked back to the center of the street.

Val and Scott moved back to their original positions and watched as Johnny looked down and pulled a bloody hand from his side. 

Murmurs came from the remaining gunhawks. 

Val grabbed Scott’s arm as he started to move to his brother.

“Val, he’s hurt.” Scott tried to pull away.

“It’s not over yet, Scott.” Val kept his eyes on Johnny.  “He’s still standing.  The ‘dance’ ain’t over.”

As he looked at his bloodied hand, a dark cloud came over Johnny’s face.  He looked at gun- hawks on both sides of the street.

“Mierda,” he said loud enough for the entire street to hear.  “Davidson just ruined my favorite shirt.  Now, I’m really pissed off.” 

He thought he heard laughter coming from different places on the street, including where Scott was standing.   He paused and looked over his shoulder toward Scott and Val, giving them a look that made them shrink back.

Johnny then yelled, “So, who’s next?”

The eighth gunhawk was about to step onto the street when he heard Johnny curse.  The man looked at Johnny and stepped back onto the boardwalk, shaking his head.  No one else came forward.        

“COME ON, WHO’S NEXT?  I can keep this up all day.”

Johnny turned to look at both sides of the street. “No one?  No one else wants to try for a piece of me?”     

Still, no one came forward.   

He then turned to Matt Wilson.  “Wilson, I’m calling you out,” Johnny’s voice carried along the street.

Matt Wilson whirled around and looked at Johnny.  “I’m not a gunfighter, Madrid.  You can’t do that.”

“The hell I can’t.  Seems you been hiring men for weeks to try to kill me.  Figure it’s about time we met face to face.” Johnny took a hesitant step forward.  “Move out to the street.  We’re going to finish this now.”

Wilson didn’t move.

Fury rose in Johnny.  

“What kind of game is this for you, Wilson?  Is this how you get your entertainment, watching me kill men?  I’ve taken down 11 of your gunhawks in the last six weeks, not counting Bixby.”  He saw a flicker of recognition in Wilson’s face.

“You remember Bixby, don’t you?  He tried to ambush me.  He’s buried along with the others over there in the cemetery.  Have you any idea how many this makes for me?” Johnny waved his blood-covered hand, indicating the bodies in the street.  “Why don’t I just add you to the list?”

Johnny didn’t let the murmurs he heard distract him. Nor did he let the quickly overwhelming burning pain in his side.

“You move, or I’m gonna kill you where you stand, cobarde,” Johnny growled.

Wilson still didn’t move.  He looked to the men he’d hired.  “Well, do something,” he yelled out to them.  “You’re all being paid to do a job, so do it.”

The gunhawks just looked at him.

Johnny laughed. “You lied to them, Wilson.  You told them they were facing some rancher’s kid.  Didn’t tell them who they were really facing, did you?  You think you’re going to get any loyalty from these men?  They don’t owe you a damn thing.”

Johnny’s eyes scanned the hired gunman on either side of the street.  No one was moving.

“Alright, Wilson, I’ll tell you what.  You tell me who’s behind this and I might let you live.” Johnny watched as Wilson’s face turned red.

Matt Wilson didn’t move as Johnny walked to within 4 feet of him.

Lancer men stayed in their places.  Scott and Val advanced to either side of Johnny.  Murdoch and Sam had moved down the boardwalk on the other side of the street.

Wilson felt panic rising in him.  How did it come to this?  How could Madrid have survived so many top gunmen?  Everyone he’d hired was now abandoning him.  

Fury raged within Wilson.  He’d assured his employer Madrid would die and that Lancer would fall.  It was all falling apart.

 Johnny glanced at Val.

“Val, why don’t you take our friend over to the jail so we can have a little talk?”

“I think that is a real good idea.” Val stood next to Wilson.  “Wilson, you stay right there.  You’ll be coming with me in a few minutes.”

Johnny walked back to the middle of the street. “I’m asking one more time.  Anyone else wanna’ die today?”

Still, no one came forward.

“Fine, this ends now.  There isn’t going to be a payday for any of you.  If you didn’t collect anything on the front end, you’re just out of luck.  All of you mount up and ride out.”  Johnny’s eyes were still cold and hard.    

Now!”  His final word echoed off the buildings. 

Slowly, men started moving toward their mounts.  They rode out alone, in pairs, and some in groups.

Bob Johnson rode up to Johnny before leaving.  “Always a pleasure watching you work, Johnny.  Be seeing you.”  

Smiling, Johnson pulled his horse around and rode out of town.


When the last gunhawk had ridden away, Scott looked at his brother.  A wide grin came across his face.  He saw Madrid fade, and Johnny Lancer smiled back.

Scott hit Val on the back and then waved his hand to the Lancer men.

“Mount up!  We’re going home!”

Johnny watched Murdoch start to cross the street.  There was nothing more he wanted at that moment than to be with his father.  He felt a shooting pain, grabbed his side, and stumbled.  He was starting to feel lightheaded, and he knew it was due to blood loss and the adrenaline wearing off.

Johnny met Murdoch in the middle of the street.  Murdoch grasped both of Johnny’s arms, a broad smile on his face.  

Johnny turned back toward Val and realized no one was watching Wilson.

Johnny saw Wilson reach into his coat and pull a gun out.  He wasted precious seconds yelling a warning to Val. 

He knew he was too late when he drew and fired at Wilson.  Wilson had already aimed and fired twice.  Johnny could see a wisp of smoke come from Wilson’s gun.  He felt like it was the dream that had plagued him a few weeks earlier.  He could almost see the bullet spinning toward him.  

He pushed his father behind him just as the first bullet hit.

Scott and Val heard Johnny’s warning yell and then heard three shots as they turned around to see the gun in Wilson’s hand.  Val reached for the gun just as Johnny’s bullet hit Wilson in the chest.

Scott watched in horror as Wilson’s first bullet hit Johnny’s left arm.  Blood sprayed across Murdoch’s face and shirt as his brother seemed to spin in slow motion.  He could see the shock and pain on Johnny’s face as he crumpled into Murdoch’s arms and slid to the ground.

Wilson’s second bullet missed Johnny’s head by inches.

Why always the left side?’ Johnny thought as he slipped into darkness.

The Lancer men heard the shots and guns drawn; they started running down the street. They found Murdoch covered in blood and Johnny in his arms.  Immediately, they encircled the pair watching in all directions for any danger.

Sam pushed his way through the ring of men. Reaching down, he checked for a pulse.

“Get him to my office.” Sam waved at two of the hands.

Joe and Walt lifted Johnny and carried him to Sam’s office, followed by Scott and Murdoch. 

Sam entered the examination room.  “Scott, I’m going to need some help.  Everyone else out,” he ordered as Val, Murdoch, and Cipriano started into the room.

“Sam…,” Murdoch started to say.

“Out. Let me work.”  Sam turned his attention to his patient.

Murdoch walked onto the boardwalk.  He looked at his hands and then the front of his white shirt, both now covered in his son’s blood.

Murdoch found the people of the town emerging from buildings up and down the street.  The Lancer men were still standing in front of Sam’s office with guns in their hands.

“Cipriano, leave ten men here and take the rest back to the ranch.  Let Teresa know what’s happened.” Murdoch looked at the blood on his hands and clothes.   “If you could have someone bring me a change of clothes, I would appreciate it.”

“Si, Patron.  I will take care of it.”

Cipriano chose the ten men to leave in town to guard Johnny.  Five of those men volunteered to stay.  Cipriano only nodded his agreement.


Sam lifted one of Johnny’s eyelids. “He’s going into shock.”

Sam cut the sleeve on Johnny’s shirt.  The bullet had gone straight through.  He stitched the wound and bandaged it.

Johnny hadn’t stirred the entire time. 

“Sam, shouldn’t he be waking up?” Scott asked with concern.

“He should, I’m not sure…,” Sam started to say and then looked at Johnny’s side. He had forgotten about the other wound. 

Sam ripped Johnny’s shirt open.  Blood was still seeping from the wound in his side.  “It’s almost in the same spot as the last time.  The bullet is still in there.”

An hour later, Sam had removed the bullet and bandaged the wound.  Once done, he checked the young man’s pulse and lifted his eyelids.   “He’s lost a lot of blood, but his heart rate is good.  We need to watch for infection and fever.  Let’s let him rest.”

Scott laughed.  “Sam, do you think we’ll have better luck this time keeping him down than we did the last time?”

Sam left Scott with his brother and went to find Murdoch.  He saw his old friend standing in front of his office talking with Cipriano. 

“He’s fine, Murdoch,” Sam said as Murdoch, Cipriano, and the Lancer men moved closer to him. “None of the wounds are life-threatening; however, he’s lost a lot of blood.  He’s still hasn’t woken up but should be awake shortly.” 

“Thank God,” Murdoch said.  “You took so long I was beginning to worry.”

“Well, the wound in his side was a little worse than Johnny let on,” Sam answered. “It required surgery.”

“When can I take him home?” Murdoch asked.

“I would like to keep him here for a week, but I know that Johnny isn’t going to stand for that.  How about we tell him a week and settle for four days,” Sam laughed.


For four days, they’d argued with Johnny as to when he was going home and how.  Now Scott rode up to Sam’s office with Barranca in tow.  Walt was driving the buggy.

Scott dismounted and walked into Sam’s office.  He nodded to the Lancer men still posted outside the building.  Scott had decided that having guards on his brother was still a good idea even though it appeared all the gunhawks had left town.

“Well, are you ready?” Scott asked Johnny, who was sitting on the side of the bed.  

Murdoch and Sam stood ready to help.

“More than ready,” Johnny pushed himself to his feet.  Johnny wavered and grabbed the bed.

“Steady, brother,” Scott took hold of his brother’s right arm.

“I’m fine,” Johnny answered as the dizziness past. “You got my rig?”

Scott handed the gun belt to Johnny and then guided him to the front door.  He already knew what was going to happen.  Johnny was not going to allow anyone to help him.

Murdoch and Sam walked out the door.  A group of townspeople had started to gather.  The Lancer men stood in a semi-circle around the front of Sam’s office keeping the crowd back.

Johnny put his gun belt on, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.  He didn’t need all of Madrid right now, just enough to get him to his horse and out of town.

Scott opened the door, and Johnny walked out.  He pulled his hat down over his eyes as he stood looking out at the ever-growing crowd.  Lancer men turned to see Johnny looking like nothing had happened.

A voice called out from the crowd, “You doing alright, Johnny?”

“Doing fine,” he answered with a nod. 

“John, let’s go home.”

Murdoch squeezed Johnny’s arm and then climbed into the buggy to sit next to Walt.

Johnny walked to Barranca, took a breath, and mounted with only a slight grimace on his face.

“Mount up, men,” Scott called out.  Lancer men took to their horses and lined up behind Scott and Johnny.

The buggy took the lead, followed by Scott and Johnny side by side.  The other men fell in behind two abreast. 

The procession passed Val standing on the boardwalk.  Johnny nodded and tipped his hat as they rode by.

Walt had the buggy going so slow Johnny thought he could have walked faster.

“Walt,” Johnny said, “you know, you go any slower, and I’m going to fall asleep up here.  What do you say we get home before dark?”

Walt looked at Murdoch.  Murdoch looked over his shoulder at his son and then nodded to Walt to go faster.

Scott looked at his brother and smiled.  Johnny was being Johnny. 


Val rode into Lancer the day after Johnny came home.  

“Val,” Scott met him at the door, “good to see you.   What brings you out here?”

“Thought you’d like to know what I found out about Matt Wilson,” Val answered.

“Johnny’s in his room.” Scott waved Val toward the staircase.  “Let’s go up.  Murdoch’s with him.”

“He alright?” Val gave Scott a worried look.

“Come on,” Scott led the way upstairs, “see for yourself.”

Val entered Johnny’s room to find his friend sitting up in bed with pillows behind his back.  Murdoch was sitting beside the bed.  

“Well, how’d you handle the trip home yesterday?” Val knew from the looks of things that the trip home was not as Johnny had planned.

Johnny’s face was flushed and his eyes glassy.

“He’s running a fever.  Johnny thought he could ride all the way home,” Scott laughed.  “He got about a mile out of town before he had to get into the buggy.”

“Seems like Sam feels I need a few more days in bed,” Johnny complained. “I kinda’ tore a few stitches loose.”

“Don’t surprise me a bit,” Val laughed, shaking his head.

“Val has information about Wilson.” Scott moved to sit on the other side of Johnny.

“Went through Wilson’s things in his room,” Val moved closer to the bed. “Found papers from someone telling him to hire the gunhawks, a few telegrams, and lots of cash.  Almost $10,000.00.  Nothing had a name on it to tell us who Wilson’s boss was.  Guess we may never know who hired him.”

“Do you think we should be worrying?” Murdoch asked.

“Don’t see a reason to worry, Mr. Lancer,” Val said.  “Right now, things are quiet.  Kinda’ hope they stay that way.”

“I do have a question for Scott.” Johnny looked at Scott with a puzzled look, “Why was it that every man who called me out gave me their name and then looked at you?”

Scott and Murdoch both started laughing.

Val’s face broke out in a grin.  “Well, Scott asked for anyone who was calling you out to give him their names.  You know so he could keep track of who you shot and so we could give them a proper burying’.”

Johnny’s jaw dropped as he looked at Scott.  “I can’t believe they gave you their names.”

Scott, Murdoch, and Val started laughing so hard that tears came to their eyes.  Johnny began to laugh.  He had tears in his eyes as well; however, his tears were due to the stitches in his side pulling.

“That’s enough, son.” Murdoch stood up, trying to hold back his laughter. “You need to rest.  We’ll see Val out.”

Johnny suddenly stopped laughing.  His face had become somber.  He looked down at his hands folded in his lap.  Three sets of eyes stared at the young man.

“John?” Murdoch finally spoke.

Johnny looked up and slowly shook his head.  

“I bet the devil was sitting in hell laughing his head off the other day.  A street full of men who’d sold their souls just waiting to pay their due,” Johnny’s voice sounding like Madrid.

“Don’t talk like that.” Val moved to Johnny’s side.

“You know it’s true, Val.  You know that every time we take a life, we lose a piece of our souls.  I don’t even know how much of my soul I have left.” Johnny suddenly felt very tired. “How many times can you tear a piece off and still expect to come out on the other side?”

“Johnny…,” Val started.

“What was it all for?” He shook his head.  “Why bring gunhawks in and not make a play for Lancer.  Was it someone’s sick sense of humor to watch me kill 11 men like that?  Not to mention Bixby.  I just don’t understand.”   They could hear the anguish in his voice.   

Murdoch reached over and placed a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “John, I don’t have an answer for you.  I’m sorry someone put you through this.  I am thankful you had the ability to do what you did and that you’re still here with us.”

Johnny gave his father a faint smile.  “I’m kinda’ glad I’m still here, too.” Johnny leaned back against the headboard.  “It’s just that 11 more….”                                                                                   

“Rest now, son,” Murdoch said, taking his hand off his son’s shoulder. 

“See you later, Amigo,” Val said as he left the room with Murdoch and Scott.

Once downstairs, Murdoch turned to Val.  “Val, he will be alright, won’t he?”

“I expect so, Mr. Lancer.  He needs some time,” Val looked at the worried father.  “I know how it is once the adrenalines gone.  Depression sets in real quick.  I hope you know just how sensitive Johnny is.  He never got so low that he didn’t care about the people he was helping or the ones that called him out.”

“Sexton Joe told me that gunfighters were fallen angels sent down to hell.  Isham told me that Johnny hadn’t fallen all the way.” Murdoch remembered that night in the Great Room when Sexton Joe and Isham had come to kill him.

“That’s true,” Val said.  “Johnny never did fall all the way.  He feels every death.  Whether he believes it or not, he still has his soul.” 

“Val was Johnny telling the truth back when he faced Benton?  Was Benton number 33?”  Scott asked.

Val didn’t answer right away. “Maybe. The way I figure it was probably more than that face to face.”

“So, with the seven the other day…,” Scott didn’t finish his sentence.

Val nodded again.




“John,” the loud voice called out across the yard.

“Mierda,” Johnny cussed under his breath.  He had almost made it this time.  He was almost to the barn.

He looked up to see Frank and Walt standing at the corral with grins on their faces.  He gave them his best Madrid glare, and the smiles disappeared.

“Walt, would you saddle Barranca for me,” Johnny called out before turning toward the house.

“You sure?” Walt asked with the grin returning.

Johnny thought about throwing a nasty remark at the man and then thought again.  “No, hold up.  Let me see what he wants … this time.”

Johnny turned and walked quickly back to the house.  He could see his father standing on the veranda waiting for him.  It was the fifth time in the last hour he’d started to go to the barn and been called back.

Johnny stomped back to the house. 

It had been almost three weeks since the gunfights in Green River.  During that time, he’d had a few setbacks.  First, came a fever that hung for days, then he’d caught a cold.  Now that he was getting over the cold, Sam had finally cleared him to ride.

Sam may have loosened his reins, but Murdoch Lancer had stepped in and had put his own restrictions on his son.

Lancer’s problems weren’t over, and Murdoch wasn’t taking any chances.  They still didn’t know who’d hired Matt Wilson and that had all of them worried.

Murdoch said he was going to do everything within his power to keep his son safe.  As a result, he insisted that Johnny always have two of the ‘chosen’ with him when he was away from the hacienda.

To add to Murdoch and Scott’s worry, Val told them he figured it wouldn’t take long before word spread that Johnny Madrid had taken out some of the best, if not the best, gunhawks west of the Mississippi.

Val set about doing his part in keeping Johnny safe by keeping his eyes open in town.  He’d also sent telegrams to the Sheriffs in neighboring towns.  If a gunhawk got within fifty miles of Green River, he would know about it. 

Johnny initially balked at the restrictions. He told them he didn’t need ‘babysitters.’  All he wanted was for life to go back to normal, whatever that was for them.  However, no amount of arguing was going to change anyone’s mind.  It took Murdoch, Val, and Scott to reason with him. When Teresa had joined in, he finally threw up his hands and gave in to them.

Now, he’d spent the better part of an hour trying to get away from the house and his old man.

Johnny came to a stop in front of Murdoch.  He put his hands on his hips, cocked his head, and looked up at his father.

Before Murdoch could speak, Johnny started in. “Before you ask, yes, I took my medicine.  Yes, I have a jacket.  Yes, I’m taking Walt and Frank with me, just like you told me to.  Yes, I’ll take it easy today.  Yes, I promise I’ll lay down this afternoon and rest.   Yes, I’ll be home by lunch.  That is if I ever get out of here.  Is there anything I’ve missed?”

Murdoch smiled at his son.  “Well, there is one more thing.  Come over here.” Murdoch turned and went behind one of the pillars on the veranda. 

‘What now?’ Johnny thought as he followed Murdoch.

Murdoch turned around, making sure they were out of sight of the ranch hands.  When Johnny was close, he reached out and pulled his son into a hug against his chest.

There was a moment of hesitation before Johnny put his arms around his father’s waist.  He leaned into the broad chest and sighed.

“I just want to tell you I love you.” The words were like music in the air.

“I love you, too,” Johnny said as the arms tightened around his father.

Too soon, the moment was over.  Murdoch pushed his son out at arm’s length.  “Go on then.  I’ll see you at lunch.”

Johnny started to turn away and then quickly turned back.  This time he initiated the hug.   

Murdoch wrapped his arms around his boy.  He pulled him close and placed a kiss on his son’s head.

He had waited a lifetime for this moment, and he wasn’t about to let go. 


To Shooting Star

October 2018 Revised June 2020

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.



9 thoughts on “Pistolero by SandySha

  1. Loved this story! I’m excited there’s two more stories to read in the series…so far. Keep writing.


  2. Good story, so is ol’ Harlan the money behind the gunfighters? The money, hatred of Madrid, wanting to take over Lancer. Just sounds like Harlan to me.


  3. Have read this so many times that I have lost count and it just keeps getting better. Would have never believed that since I thought it was perfect the first time I read it.


    1. Thank you so much. You don’t know how much your words mean to me. I loved this story when I wrote it and it is one of my first.


  4. I love this series. Pistolero is a great story with a perfect ending. Thank you for writing and sharing it with us m


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