Word count 2,509
Thanks to Doc and Buckskin for help with the beta.
Written in response to the 2021 Lancer Writer’s ‘NAME THAT MOVIE SCENE CHALLENGE.’
The news spread through Tucson faster than a Texas twister. Frank Miller was on his way back to the dusty Arizona town with only one thing on his mind, revenge.
Three hours ago, Miller’s gang Jack Colby, Jim Pierce, and Frank’s younger brother, Ben, rode into town. They wasted no time letting everyone know Frank would be coming in on the noon stage from Yuma. They’d bragged that by ten minutes after twelve, Johnny Madrid would be a dead man.
The wind picked up and dust filled Tucson’s streets as the large courthouse clock struck eleven.
At the far end of town, in the Ramirez Saloon, Johnny Madrid sat with his back to the wall and eyes on the door. No one dared speak to him or approach the table. Anyone coming through the batwing doors took one look at the young gunhawk and scurried to the far end of the bar or did an immediate about-face to find somewhere else to do their drinking.
Johnny watched the bartender, Joe Weaver, go about his business as if nothing out of the normal was happening, as if this were going to be just any other quiet Sunday. The thing is, this wasn’t going to be just any other day. Tucson was going to remember this Sunday for a long time.
Joe wiped down the bar top and glanced his way.
Dipping his head so that his hat covered his face, Johnny rubbed his forehead with his left hand and took a deep breath.
Joe was there when it all started. The man was behind the bar that night eight months ago when Frank Miller and his men walked in. Johnny looked around the room, realizing this was the same table he’d sat at that night, too. From here, he’d watched it all play out.
The batwing doors flew open. Four men covered in a layer of grey dust stomped in.
“Whiskey.” Frank Miller pounded the bar top. “Whiskey all the way around and leave the bottle.”
Joe reached behind the bar, brought out four shot glasses, and then sat a bottle of Rye in front of Miller.
“Let me know if you need anything else,” Joe said before moving down the bar to the next customer.
Miller filled the glasses for his men and then himself. Downing the first shot, Miller poured a second round and then turned so his back was against the bar. Scanning the room, the gunman’s eyes fell on Johnny and a crooked grin formed on his face.
“Well, boys, will you look at that. We got us a chili bean.” Miller threw back his drink and slammed the glass down on the bar. “Boy, you’re in the wrong place. The cantina is down the street.”
“Miller, don’t start anything in here.” Joe reached out and touched Miller’s arm. “Not here and not with him.”
“Why not him?” Miller sneered.
Joe lowered his voice. “Miller, that’s Johnny Madrid.”
“The hell you say. I don’t….”
Johnny raised his head, giving Miller a faint smile, his dark blue eyes boring a hole through the man.
Miller hesitated, then laughed. “Well, I guess he can stay. I ain’t got no fight with you, Madrid.”
Johnny didn’t move or take his eyes off of Miller until the man turned to face the bar again.
Everyone thought it was over. Hell, Johnny thought it was over, that is until the ladies came down the stairs.
Johnny knew the older woman, Helen Ramirez, part-owner of the saloon. He’d never seen the girl with her.
Johnny stood as they headed his way.
In a black low-cut floor-length dress, Helen crossed the room with the girl by her side. The young Mexican girl wore a dark red knee-length dress that complimented her complexion.
Tipping his hat, Johnny pulled out a chair for Helen and one for the girl.
“Have a seat, ladies,” he drawled.
“Johnny,” Helen smiled and took her seat, “this is Tina Martinez. Tina’s been working for me for a couple of weeks now. Tina, sit down, chica, this young hombre is Johnny Madrid.”
Johnny smiled when Tina lowered her head as if afraid to look at him.
“It’s a pleasure, Tina.”
Tina looked up and smiled at him. Johnny could swear she wasn’t more than sixteen years old.
They talked for a few minutes before Helen excused herself, leaving Johnny and the girl alone.
“So, Tina, what do you do here?” Johnny asked, already figuring he knew the answer.
Tina blushed and started to answer when loud voices at the bar turned into yelling. Frank Miller threw a whisky bottle at the mirror behind the bar. The glass shattered and shards flew in all directions.
Tina jumped to her feet, stifling a scream. Cursing, Joe ducked behind the bar. The entire time a drunken Miller laughed. When he spotted Tina, the laughter stopped. Johnny saw something in the man’s eyes he didn’t like.
Standing, Johnny reached for the girl. Miller stumbled across the room, grabbing Tina around the waist and pulling her towards him.
“Come on, darling. You need a real man, not some wet behind the ears boy.”
“Please, senor. Stop.”
Johnny took a step forward. “Let her go, Miller.”
Tina pulled away from Miller only to be grabbed and jerked back against the drunken man. When Miller tried to kiss the struggling woman, she scratched his face.
Enraged, Miller backhanded the petite girl with enough force she was lifted off her feet. She flew backward until the back of her head connected with the bar’s edge. There was a sickening sound when Tina Martinez’s skull cracked. She slid to the floor and lay unmoving as blood spread out around her black hair.
Miller stared at the body for a moment, then laughed and staggered back to the bar. Slamming his fist against the bar top, he yelled, “Give me another drink.” When Joe didn’t move, Miller screamed, “Give me another drink!”
When Joe still didn’t move, Miller turned around and looked at the men in the saloon. “What? She was nothing but a Mex whore.” He turned to his men and motioned them towards the door. “Come on, boys, we’re leaving.”
A soft drawl, almost too low to hear, stopped them before they got to the door, “And you’re a dead man.”
Miller turned to look at Madrid with a grin on his face.
“You think you can take me, gunhawk?” Miller laughed, “No one can take me, especially some half-breed bastard.”
Miller and Madrid were facing off when Marshall Harv Pell stepped through the batwing doors and took in the scene.
“You two hold it right there.”
Pell strode across the room. His eyes fell on Helen, who was on her knees next to the girl’s body.
“Someone want to tell me what’s going on?”
Joe volunteered the story as Pell watched Tina’s blood, the same color as her dress, slowly spread around her slim shoulders. When Joe finished, the Marshall looked around the room. “Anyone else see what happened?”
Johnny watched as men looked down and away. No one was going to admit to seeing Frank Miller kill Tina Martinez.
“I saw it.” Johnny took a step forward. “I saw Miller kill her.”
Miller took a step towards Johnny, reaching for his gun as he did. “Damn you, Madrid, you’ll pay for this.”
Marshall Pell drew his gun and pointed it at Miller. “You’re under arrest, Miller. Let’s go.”
The trial was held the following week. Frank Miller was sentenced to 20 years in the Yuma Territorial Prison.
Miller screamed threats at Madrid until they loaded him into the prison wagon. His last words as the door closed were, “You’ll never keep me in prison. I’ll kill you, Johnny Madrid. I’ll kill you. I swear it. I’ll kill you. You haven’t seen the last of me, Madrid. If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll kill you.”
Johnny looked up at the clock on the saloon wall. Eleven fifteen.
“You want anything else, Johnny?” Joe asked.
“Yeah, I’m sure. Just bring the bottle.”
Joe sat the bottle on the table and started to turn back to the bar when the batwing doors slowly opened. Four men edged their way into the saloon, led by Tucson’s Mayor Jonas Henderson. The other three men were Judge Percy Mettrick, the man who’d sentenced Miller, Martin Howe, a former Marshall of Tucson, and Alex Mahin, the town’s Reverend.
Johnny had been expecting them and was surprised they’d waited so long in coming.
Henderson led the tight group of men across the room and was the first to speak.
“Mr. Madrid, we’ve come to ask you to leave town. We don’t want any more violence on our streets. There’s still time for you to leave.”
Johnny gave them a faint smile. “I’m not going anywhere. Why don’t you go down to the stage depot and tell Miller’s men to ride out?”
Johnny looked each man over. They were quaking in their boots.
“You’re afraid of Miller’s men?”
“Well, we’re …..,” the Reverend stuttered.
“So it boils down to one thing. Doesn’t it? Which of us you’re afraid of more, Miller or me.”
No one said anything.
“Let me ask you something, Judge. How did Miller get out of prison? If I remember right, he was sentenced to 20 years. That was eight months ago. Why’s he out now?”
“He was released on a technicality.”
“Technicality? What technicality? The fact that the girl he killed was Mexican or that it was me who testified against him.”
“You don’t have to answer. I know the answer. Well, you let Miller out, and he’s on his way here. I don’t plan on running. Now get out of here. I don’t want to spend another minute looking at your faces.”
The men hesitated a moment too long.
Johnny stood, his hand on the butt of his Colt. “Get….the ….hell… out ….of ….here…NOW!”
Turning tail, the four men hurried out of the saloon.
Five minutes to twelve.
Starting for the door, Johnny stopped and looked up to his right. Helen Ramirez stood at the top of the stairs.
“Johnny, don’t do this. They’ll kill you,” Helen begged when she reached the bottom of the stairs.
“Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t run away from this. I start running, and I’ll never stop. My life won’t be worth a plugged nickel.”
She looked towards the street. “I hate this town. I hate these fine upstanding people. They’ve forsaken you just as they did poor Tina.”
“It is what it is, Helen. You can’t change people. No use in trying.”
Johnny noticed her bags for the first time.
“You going somewhere?”
“I’m leaving on the stage when it pulls out. I can’t … no, I won’t watch you die.”
Johnny smiled. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“I have every confidence in you.” She reached for Johnny’s arm. “Please, you can still leave. Meet me in El Paso.”
“You can’t run from your own shadow, Helen. That’s what Miller will become if I don’t face him now. I’m not living the rest of my life running from a shadow.”
The town clock struck twelve as the Butterfield Overland stage rumble down the street.
Johnny kissed Helen and then turned and walked out the saloon doors. It was time to meet his fate. Time to meet Frank Miller.
He stopped on the boardwalk. The trail of dust left behind by the stage was still hanging in the air.
Johnny stepped into the street and began to walk. The sound of his spurs jingling with each step.
On either side of the street, men and women peered from behind drawn curtains and shades. Ahead, a few women grabbed their children and ushered them inside before closing the doors behind them.
As he came to the corner of the next street, Johnny heard the sound of another man’s spurs. Slowing his pace, he stepped onto the boardwalk and peered around the corner of the building. Ben Miller was on the right of his brother. Pierce and Colby were on Frank Miller’s left.
Johnny waited until the four men were almost to the corner before he stepped out. Gunfire erupted from both sides. Johnny’s first bullet took down Ben Miller.
Running from alleyway to alleyway, Johnny exchanged gunfire with Pearce, Colby, and Frank Miller. What seemed like hours were only minutes as the sound of gunfire and acrid smoke filled the air.
Turning a corner, Johnny came face to face with Jack Colby. Both men fired at the same time. Colby fell, but not before a bullet from his gun hit Johnny’s left shoulder, spinning him around.
Johnny rolled to his right, searching for his next target. He’d just started to stand when he heard an explosion off to his left. He raised his head to see Helen Ramariz with a smoking shotgun. She’d cut down Jim Pearce using both barrels. Johnny realized Pearce must have had a clean shot at him. Had it not been for Helen, it would have been all over.
The wind picked up again as Johnny got to his feet. Tiny dust devils swirled along the street, blocking his view. Only Frank Miller was left, but where was he?
Miller edged his way along the alley. He’d circled behind Madrid and had the gunhawk in his sights when he saw the Ramariz woman step out of the shadows. The shotgun blast was deafening. When Pearce fell, Miller knew there were now two people he would see dead.
No one saw him as he walked up behind Helen.
Grabbing the woman, Miller held her in front of him like a shield.
“Drop it, Madrid, or I’ll kill her.”
“All right, Miller, just don’t hurt her.”
“No.” Helen struggled against Miller’s hold. “Don’t do it, Johnny.”
“Shut up.” Miller tightened his hold on Helen.
Turning, Helen kicked Miller’s leg. The vicious killer threw her to the ground, leaving himself exposed.
Johnny grabbed the chance, and the final shot of the day rang out. Frank Miller lay dead in the Tucson street, blood spreading across his chest.
Helen struggled to her feet and ran to Johnny. Standing in the middle of the street, he held her trembling body.
Townspeople slowly came out of their hiding places to get a closer look at the bodies of Frank Miller and his men.
Johnny shook his head in disgust before guiding Helen back towards the saloon.
The town clock was striking one o’clock when Johnny mounted his horse. He’d taken time only to get his shoulder tended to and pack his things.
Johnny Madrid headed west as the stagecoach with Helen Ramariz passed him, going east to El Paso. He’d gone only a few feet before stopping and looking over his shoulder.
Reining around, Johnny smiled. Maybe El Paso wouldn’t be so bad after all.
If you haven’t guessed, the movie is High Noon.
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