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A Name by Sharon

Word Count 3,505

“Senor Madrid? . . . Buenos dias, senor.”

The slight, thin-faced older man stood diffidently beside the table, holding a shot of whiskey in each bony hand. If Johnny Madrid Lancer’s checkered career had taught him anything, it was not to be too easily taken in by an unassuming appearance or a polite turn of phrase. That “Senor” was a sight more friendly a greeting than what he was accustomed to hearing in a place like this. But ever since Johnny’d first sat down, he’d been keenly aware of the darkly intent gaze fastened upon him; the former gunfighter had kept half an eye cocked in the man’s direction ever since, wondering what was on the stranger’s mind and, more importantly, what he intended to do about it. He was a Mexican, clean-shaven, and not a gunman; Johnny had made note of that last when his new admirer had left his chair to head over to the bar to fetch the two drinks he was now holding. Oh, sure, the hombre was wearing a piece, but it was belted tight about his waist, and the gun resting in the holster was an ordinary looking one, not likely to have seen a lot of use.

Johnny nodded, regarding the man coolly, watching and waiting. After a slight hesitation, the two glasses were placed side by side on the scarred surface of the oval table. The man took a seat, sliding one whiskey towards Johnny, who nodded again, before lifting the glass and draining it. Whatever business this man had with “Madrid,” Johnny wanted to get it handled before Scott got back.

There had been a time not so very long ago, when Johnny Madrid had expected to be identified by name in such a place, had in fact taken a good deal of satisfaction in being so recognized. Today, when he and Scott had entered the unfamiliar saloon together, Johnny had scanned the room, looking for faces he might recognize, alert for the low-slung gun belt that might indicate the presence of a “professional”. He could usually identify both the full-fledged gunhawks and the would-be gunhands during this first sweep of the room. The man now seated across from him had not attracted any attention at all.

Removing his hat as they entered, Scott had also taken took a long look around the room, though not at all for the same reasons. His Boston-reared brother hardly expected to see anyone he knew by name here in a dingy bar in an out of the way cow town, much less someone who might pose a threat to him, but Scott still had his own eye out for “professionals”. Johnny knew exactly what would attract his brother’s attention, and it wasn’t the colorful display of bottles behind the bar or the green covered card table and the money to be won. It was the same whenever they found themselves in a saloon far from home. Actually, it had gotten so that Johnny had made himself a game of trying to pick her out even before his brother did, the woman “Boston” would be escorting upstairs. She was never the youngest, least experienced girl, and certainly not one who was care-worn or coarsened. Not necessarily the prettiest, though he’d never known his brother to spend time with a really plain-looking female. Of course, all the Ladies would notice Scott, and the meaningful smile he’d throw in their direction, but Boston seemed to always manage to draw to his side the one woman who most looked like she took some pride in her work and would really enjoy doin’ some entertainin’.

Before his new drinking partner had approached, Johnny had been thinking a bit about that, how, for all his proper manners, his brother sure did appreciate the ladies— just as long as they weren’t in Morro Coyo or even Spanish Wells. Evidently Green River was a respectable enough distance from the ranch. “Well, Little Brother, it’s always best to stay out of your own backyard,” he’d said in reply to Johnny’s question, grinning wickedly and laying what Johnny understood by now was an “Authentic New England Accent” on that word “backyard”. The Lancer brothers might joke with each other about which of them had gotten the most “attention” from the females at the local dance, but apparently Scott didn’t consider more private interactions to be suitable for conversation. On at least one occasion Boston had carefully explained, quite seriously too, that “a gentleman” never spoke about such matters; but then he’d lightened it up by offering, still with a straight face, to give Johnny any “advice” that he might happen to need.

Weren’t likely he’d ever need any. Johnny was quite satisfied with the steady arrangement he had with a very fine young woman in Morro Coyo. He’d always been that way, one lady at a time. He’d always kinda liked the idea of there being somebody waiting for him somewhere, though in his line of work he’d had to be careful not to let any female get too attached.

It was yet another difference between them and another reason why Johnny had been so surprised to learn that his older brother had once been engaged. Scott liked to imply that he’d had quite a reputation with the ladies. Well, whatever name and reputation, good or bad, that ol’ Scott had earned for himself back East, he’d been able to leave it all behind when he’d decided to settle in California.

Which was not the case for Johnny, his name and reputation continued to follow him around. He’d lost count of how many times he’d been recognized, greeted by name and then had to quietly explain that “I go by Lancer now.” A lot of those greetings hadn’t sounded too friendly; some of the ones that had, weren’t. Well, that hadn’t changed, a gunfighter didn’t tend to have too many friends. What was different was that now he usually had Scott beside him, alert and not likely to stay out of it. Scott wasn’t one to ask a lot of questions, just make those comments of his about Johnny being “renowned” or saying how much he’d enjoyed meeting yet another one of his brother’s “admirers.”

After the brothers had picked out a corner table, Scott had deposited his hat on the stained table top and headed off to get a couple of beers. But he’d never made it back. Seated near the bar, there’d been a half drunk cowboy with some coins in his hand who had started getting a bit too rough with the tiniest of the saloon girls. Maybe she was new to the job, she did look awful young and she’d kept uncomfortably tugging at her low-cut red dress. She sure didn’t seem to have much idea at all of how to handle a customer. The cowboy had grabbed her, the little redhead had started to cry and of course Scott couldn’t stay out of that either. Words had been exchanged, the bartender ––who seemed to be the owner of the place—had gotten into it and Boston had ended up angrily handing over a wad of paper money and then grimly escorting the still tearful young woman up the stairs, leaving Johnny sitting there alone. His older brother had to have known Johnny was watching it all pretty carefully, but Scott hadn’t so much as glanced his way. From the set of his jaw, Boston probably wouldn’t have cared much for the grin Johnny’d had plastered on his face anyway.

Since he figured his brother would be gone a while, getting himself a beer had been Johnny’s first order of business. So he’d ambled over to the bar, introduced himself and suggested that that the barkeeper draw one for him, seein’ as how his brother had just handed over a hell of a lot more cash than he’d needed to for that little girl’s company. Damn if it hadn’t worked. After drinking off about a third of it, he’d slapped the tall mug back down on the counter. “Top me off,” Johnny’d suggested with a grin, and the bartender had done that too.

Things had gotten pretty quiet after Scott’s cowboy “friend“ had staggered out of the place, his arm wrapped around one of the other girls. Johnny discouraged the third one from approaching by giving her a friendly smile and a brief shake of his head. Of course, once he’d strolled back to his spot, Johnny hadn’t been able to sit contentedly with his beer, being too preoccupied with wondering how long it would take the fella two tables away to finally find the courage to do or say whatever it was he was itchin’ to. Man had kept on staring at him, even while everyone else in the place was bein’ entertained by Scott’s heated dispute with the drunk over at the bar. Well, it sure wasn’t a big surprise that when the stranger did finally decide to talk, the name that came out of his mouth was “Madrid”.

Turning the small shot glass on the table top with his left hand, Johnny coolly studied the man seated opposite. Past middle-age, and care worn, he was sippin’ slowly at his whiskey, and didn’t seem in any kind of a hurry to state his business. 

“Man buys me a drink, I’d like to know why,” Johnny said finally.

“Do you remember Senor, that you shot a man in Santo Toribio?” 

Johnny stopped twirling the shot glass and deliberately relaxed back in his chair. “Yeah. I remember.” 

“That is why.” 

His as yet unidentified new amigo then snatched up Johnny’s empty glass and headed over to the bar for a refill. Johnny knew he really didn’t need another, but he let the man go, so he could think about what it was he recalled about Santo Toribio. He remembered the place all right, a small town near the Mexican border that had grown up around a little adobe mission church of the same name. He’d been in a saloon, much smaller and darker than this one, standing alone at the bar, when he’d once again heard someone behind him announce his name, the voice too loud, the tone insolent: “Johnnee Madrid.” 

He’d turned to see some hair-in-his-eyes, wet-behind-the-ears kid standing a few feet away. Mexican, tall and fairly muscular, probably actually pretty close to his own age but unquestionably still a kid in comparison, mouthing something stupid like “I’m gonna take you, Madrid.” Johnny had just sighed, told him to go home to his mamá. Kid had taken exception to that, especially since he had three half-wit friends watching from a nearby table who each then had a few choice things to say. Johnny’d immediately recognized that his would-be opponent had had just enough to drink to give him an extra dose of courage. When the young gun shook the hair out of his eyes, Johnny had taken a real good look at him. Mean little eyes, hard in the center, yet soft around the edges—soft as in uncertain. Johnny had quickly pegged him as mostly show, a bully, the type who usually picked a fight with someone not much likely to strike back. Well, there was no question the kid had made himself a big mistake when he’d gone ahead and uttered the name “Madrid”, but Johnny figured it was the liquor running the kid’s mouth, that and his buddies egging him on, and that if “Madrid” just left, they’d be more’n satisfied.  Johnny shook his head as he remembered how back then he had prided himself on being able to judge a man on just one look, how much stock he used to place on his own first rapid assessment. Then he’d met Scott and, well, since then he’d learned to look twice.

Confident the kid wasn’t any kind of a serious threat, Johnny had simply ignored the taunts and finished his tequila, hadn’t even looked around again until he was ready to leave. “I- – ain’t- – fighting- – you,” he’d said, laying deliberate emphasis upon each word as he walked out of the saloon, setting his hat square on his head and then pushing his way out through the batwings. He’d sauntered down the sidewalk to his horse, was already untying the animal, when damn if the young fool didn’t come out through the doors behind him, cross the sidewalk and step out into the dusty main street of sleepy little Santo Toribio. His three amigos were right behind ‘im, one of ‘em even still holding onto a mug of beer. 

The kid had spewed some garbage about Johnny being scared to face him, how Johnny ought to stand and fight “like a man”. Johnny hadn’t responded, just checked his horse, tightening the cinch, adjusting the saddlebags, up until the boy had said something about “don’t make me just shoot you down, Madrid.” 

There was an edge to the voice that warned Johnny that he just might do it. Strolling out into the street, making sure his ride wasn’t in the line of fire, Johnny’d tried to talk to the kid, had addressed him in Spanish, asked him his name. 

“You don’t need to know my name. . . . .But everyone else will,—– when they hear how I got the drop on you.” 

His saddle pals in front of the saloon had hooted and hollered at that. There’d be no reasoning with the boy, no way he’d back down, not with them cheering him on. Once he was out in the street, Johnny had naturally assumed his stance, hadn’t even realized that he’d done it. Then he’d had plenty of time to see it coming. The kid had taken a big swallow and swung his hair out of his eyes. Johnny had watched him tense up, could practically hear the voice in the young gun’s head telling him to just “go ahead and do it”. The experienced gunslinger had waited until the kid’s weapon had almost cleared leather before he’d made his own move, squeezing the trigger and planting one bullet like a seed of death deep in the kid’s chest. 

Legs oddly twisted beneath him, the nameless assailant had lain crumpled in a heap on the ground, his eyes dull and vacant, the blossoming crimson stain of his life-blood soaking the pale blue shirt. He hadn’t even drawn his last shuddering breath before his now silent buddies were mounting their horses and heading out of town, leaving the kid lying there in the street. Taking no pride in so easily dispatching an unworthy opponent, Johnny had holstered his gun and stood motionless in the street. He waited patiently for a moment, waited until the kid lay completely still and until the dead youth’s so-called friends were completely out of sight before climbing aboard his own horse and riding off in the opposite direction. The townsfolk who had witnessed the event were left to tend to the remains.  

What Johnny recalled now, and clearly, was that as he’d ridden out, he’d passed a small cemetery beside the little adobe church, and then another, even smaller graveyard on the edge of town. He’d thought about how it was likely that the boy would be buried there in some shallow, unmarked grave. Nothing he could do about it, since the kid had refused to give a name, but it had bothered him, still did. At the time, Johnny had taken a very great satisfaction in the knowledge that he would never share the same fate. He did have a “name”, he was well known. If. . . . or when . . . it was his turn to lie lifeless in the street, surely someone would carve “Madrid” into some odd scrap of wood. His grave would be identified, at least until time and the elements weathered the marking away. Johnny smiled down ruefully into his beer, thinking about how much his life had changed since then. The expectation of a name scratched on a piece of board seemed like such cold comfort now, but it had sure meant a lot back then. 

The thin-faced man returned with another shot of whiskey. Johnny waited until he was seated and then softly asked who he was. The question was posed in Spanish and the response made in the same tongue: “My name is Luis Ayala Elizondo.” 

“¿Y Santo Toribio?” 

Senor Ayala sipped at his whiskey, gesturing for Johnny to do the same. Resolutely, Johnny refrained from touching the glass, determined to wait until he had some answers. Abruptly, Ayala tossed back the rest of the liquid remaining in his own shot, carefully placed the glass on the table and wiped his mouth with one hand. “The young man you killed, he was my cousin’s boy. I raised him as my own . . . he was like a son to me.”  

The words, in Spanish, were uttered in a voice devoid of emotion, just a statement of fact. Despite the absence of any note of anger or resentment on the part of the dead youth’s self proclaimed substitute father, Johnny still allowed his gun hand to drop out of sight, below the level of the tabletop.  

“I wish to thank you, Senor Madrid.” 

“For killin’ him?” Johnny made no effort to hide his skepticism.

“Si.” 

Since Ayala’s hands were resting on the table in front of him, Johnny felt comfortable bringing his own up and folding them across his chest. “Mind explainin’ that?” he asked, unconsciously reverting back to English. 

The man seated opposite took a moment to collect his thoughts, then in a torrent of rapid Spanish, began to relate his story. “I had followed him, I was going to kill him myself for what he did. To my daughter, to my Lupe.” 

“He told her that if she ever spoke of what he had done, he would return and do worse! Worse!” he repeated bitterly. “I saw her face. And she could not lie to me. When I went to him, he laughed—— he said that he knew I would never do anything, for fear that ‘Lupe’s shame’ would become known.”  

Those dark eyes burned in Luis Ayala’s lean face; Johnny wanted to look away, but the intensity of the father’s pain seemed to draw him in and he could only return the man’s stare. “Lupe’s shame,” Ayala repeated, shaking his head. “She was not the first, and I knew this. It was his shame, but also mine, Senor, because I took him into my house. He dishonored our family name.”

“So you went out and you got yourself a gun.” 

“Si. And I would have used it!” the man asserted firmly. Bowing his head, he continued. “But then perhaps I could never have returned to my family. I might have been killed by Seve’s friends, or hanged for his murder,—- if you had not spared me this, Senor.” Ayala looked up at this last, and there was no question the man was sincere. But Johnny wanted to be sure.

“So you saw what happened?” 

“Si, yes, I saw.” Luis Ayala slowly rose from his seat. “After I took Lupe to my sister, then I followed him to Santo Toribio.” He turned to go.  Ayala was almost at the door before Johnny asked one more thing.

“Senor Ayala. did you have . . Seve. . buried in Santo Toribio?” 

Ayala stopped, one hand on the batwing, and made a “Ffft” sound of disgust. Without looking at Johnny, he answered his question. “Him . . I left in the street. I save my money . . . for my grandson, Juanito. . . . Juan Madreno Ayala.”  

Without another word, without a backwards glance, Luis Ayala Elizondo left the saloon. Johnny Madrid Lancer thoughtfully lifted his glass of whiskey and sipped at it as he watched the man leave.  

A short while later Scott Lancer, with a troubled expression in place of his usual satisfied air, slowly descended the stairs and slid into the chair beside his brother. “That didn’t take too long,” Johnny commented by way of greeting. 

“Not a lengthy life story,” was Scott’s even response.  

“Well, that explains it,” Johnny observed with a grin. 

Scott changed the subject. “Have you been sitting here alone all this time?” he asked looking around the room in mild disbelief.

“Just waitin’ for you, Big Brother.” Johnny gave Scott another hard look. “You’d best go get yourself a beer.” 

“No,” Scott said looking down at the tabletop with a small sigh. He shook his head regretfully. “I’m all set.” 

Johnny knew then that a certain little red haired saloon girl was probably about to make some significant changes in her life, courtesy of the last of Boston’s cash. Clapping his brother on the shoulder, Johnny eased up out of his seat and strolled over to reacquaint himself with the barkeeper and have a little talk about the matter of one more beer.

~end~

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