Word Count 6,685
An episode tag for two episodes – The Kid and Blue Skies For Willie Sharp
In The Kid, Johnny Lancer temporarily resumes his identity as the gunfighter “Johnny Madrid”. The show opens with Andy Cutler’s unsuccessful attempt to steal Barranca. Even after the Lancers try to help the hungry, dirty youngster, he thanks them by running away, taking Johnny’s horse with him. When an angry Johnny catches up with the boy, Andy finally explains why he needs the money he could get from selling the palomino. The boy is looking to hire a gunfighter to kill the two ranchers, Dan Marvin and Toby Jencks, whom he blames for his father’s death. Johnny eventually agrees to take the job for the “rock-bottom fee” of $26.37.
Soon after Johnny’s arrival in McCall’s Crossing, a gunman named Lucky “Lefty” Morgan recognizes him as Madrid; the town Sheriff and others are also familiar with both his name and reputation. Since Johnny Madrid is known to be “an expensive gun to hire”, and Marvin and Jencks are among the few local men who could afford to do so, each of them believes that it is his old friend who has brought the gunslinger to town. Each man also erroneously assumes that he is the designated target, an assumption that Johnny, with his black glove and menacing air, encourages with his cryptic comments. In the end, the two ranchers are stunned to learn that Johnny Madrid is actually working for young Andy Cutler. After hearing the true story of his father’s tragic death, Andy makes the “right choice”, pleading with Johnny to spare the two men.
For the purpose of this story, the sequence of the episodes has been altered, so that Scott Lancer has already had his “Blue Skies for Willie Sharpe” (Season 2 Episode 14) adventure up in Onyx. In that show, Scott took it upon himself to deliver young Willie to his legendary grandfather, “Kansas Bill” Sharpe. Discovering that the renowned “town tamer” had become the Onyx town drunk, Scott postponed the family reunion and stashed Willie in a shack on the outskirts. He then tackled the task of drying out Kansas Bill— much to the chagrin of the town’s “boss”, one Colonel Andrews, who had come to view the elder Sharpe as his personal source of entertainment. During his stay in Onyx, Scott had the opportunity to witness first hand the process known as “calling out”, first when a young gun (played by Sam Elliot!) challenged the barely sober Kansas Bill and later when Kansas himself “called out” Col. Andrews.
“What Happened Next”
It was still mid morning when Johnny, on Barranca, trotted up to the front entrance of the Lancer hacienda. As if on cue, one of the hands, Miguel, quickly appeared to collect the palomino. Johnny urged the man, quite unnecessarily, to take good care of his beloved mount. The animal might only be worth $25 in cash —without a bill of sale— but he was worth his weight in gold to Johnny.
Murdoch Lancer exited the front door of the house and greeted his son. “Well, you’ve been gone for a long time, where’ve ya been?” the tall rancher asked, in a pleasant but curious tone.
Without breaking his stride, Johnny smiled and then responded obliquely to his father. “Oh, just sittin’ in a rockin’ chair, rockin’ . . .” Wishing to avoid further questions, Johnny walked quickly past a puzzled Murdoch and passed through the front door without a backwards glance.
Still moving purposefully once inside, Johnny was halfway to the Lancer kitchen before he realized that he had neglected to remove his hat and gun belt. He stopped, eased the hat off his head, and half turned to look back at the hat tree standing just inside the front entrance. It was empty. Since he wasn’t planning on remaining inside for very long, he shrugged, and continued on his way. It was a firm rule that guns were not worn inside the Lancer hacienda, something that, even after a year, still occasionally elicited only a reluctant compliance from Johnny. But, he reflected ruefully, as he stepped through the doorway into Senora Maria’s domain, he was now well enough trained that during the time spent with Dorrie and Andy Cutler, even “Johnny Madrid” had not eaten a single meal while wearing his gun.
In the kitchen, Johnny Lancer received a warm, welcoming smile and a delighted “Buenos dias, Juanito” from Maria, who quickly set about pouring the young man a cup of hot coffee and scrambling some eggs, adding generous amounts of peppers and tomatoes—- just the way Johnny liked them. He dropped his hat down on the kitchen table, then pulled out a seat. Shedding his tan buckskin jacket and tossing it over one of the other chairs, he rolled up his faded pink shirtsleeves as he settled in to watch as Maria bustled about. As he savored the food, Johnny casually asked after his family, and learned that “Senorita Teresa” had gone into town with Jelly Hoskins, the grizzled Lancer handyman. Surprisingly, Maria was not aware of “Senor Scott’s” plans for the day, but clearly his brother had not gone far; Senora Alvarez generally kept herself well informed of the family’s whereabouts, the better to plan the evening menu.
With a smile, and a quick peck on the cheek for the matronly older woman, Johnny complimented her cooking in his mother tongue. Maria scolded him and shooed him away, responding in rapid Spanish that it was “only eggs” and promising to prepare an evening meal that would be a more suitable welcome home. Johnny flashed a wider grin at that, but refrained from questioning her; he would enjoy the anticipation of wondering what her special supper might be. Reaching into the vegetable bin, he pulled out a carrot and then removed an apple from the next box. Maria clucked at him, shaking her head and saying something about how he was always spoiling “que caballo”—“that horse.” Still grinning, Johnny offered another “gracias” and headed out the back door of the kitchen towards the stable with the well-deserved treats for “que caballo”.
Stepping through a side door into the dim interior of the large stable, Johnny was immediately greeted with a welcoming whinny from his golden palomino. Barranca looked out over the edge of his stall, tossing his white mane in eager anticipation of the treats in his master’s hand. As Johnny strolled down the center of the big barn, his boot heels tapping the plank floor at each step, he could see that the other stalls were empty; the building appeared to be quite deserted. His footsteps continued to echo dully in the dusty quiet of the stable, but as he drew closer, Johnny realized that Barranca was not alone in his stall; there was a familiar blue shirted figure inside the enclosure, vigorously wielding a brush along the animal’s hindquarters.
At the sound of his brother’s footsteps- -the clicking of the spurs accompanying the wooden footfalls, the steps themselves occasionally muffled by the hay underfoot, Scott Lancer turned in three-quarter profile. With his hat set back on the crown of his head, the elder Lancer’s hair seemed to match Barranca’s dark gold coat in the dim light. Dark blue sleeves turned up to just below the elbows, Scott paused momentarily in his effort, uttering his brother’s name by way of greeting as Johnny stepped up to offer the carrot to the still nickering horse. Johnny nodded and responded in kind: “Scott.” The older man returned his attention to his task, while offering a dry observation. “You’d think he hadn’t seen you lately—he’s got a lot to say.”
Johnny grinned and considered that no one was much likely to make the same comment about his brother, who had a tendency to dole out his words rather sparingly. He patted the face of the contentedly crunching horse as he framed his reply. “Oh, he’s just tellin’ me how much he always did like ya, Boston; says you’re not half bad with that brush.”
“I was working in the tack room when Miguel brought him in; seemed he could use a bit of attention.”
“Yeah, we’ve been gone a while.”
Using one finger to raise the brim of his hat up higher on his forehead, Johnny glanced over the half wall of the stall and immediately noted that Scott was not wearing a weapon . Shaking his head at that, he offered the apple to Barranca, and wondered idly whether his older brother had simply forgotten to put it on again, or if his gun belt was hanging on a nail somewhere nearby.
“So you must have found your Wolf Cub.”
“Yeah, Scott, I found ‘im.”
Scott continued to methodically work the stiff bristled dandy brush while Johnny rested his folded arms on the top of the wooden barrier to watch. His brother had large, strong hands, hands that were usually sheathed in the leather gloves now tucked up under the belt securing his brown work pants. Scott was lean and tall—taller than Johnny—a hard worker who had turned out to be quite a bit tougher than he’d appeared on first acquaintance. Angular features, serious expression and usually pretty reserved; Johnny knew from past experience that his brother wasn’t likely to ask very many questions, which suited the younger man just fine most of the time. But he realized that if there was anyone who would understand his own lack of regret over the risks he’d taken to help out young Andy Cutler, well, just maybe it would be Scott, who never seemed to sour on giving a hand to folks who he thought needed it. Johnny considered some of the things he knew that Scott had done to help people out under some pretty questionable circumstances—like that time his brother had been dead set on rescuing pregnant Polly Foley, even after Johnny had let Scott know the woman had been flat out lying to him. And then Boston had gone and made a complete fool of himself over that McGloin family, none of whom had been on speaking terms with the truth. Not that the boy, Andy, had been dishonest exactly, just that in order to see what was right, the kid’d needed somebody to point it out to him. Unlike Scott, Johnny usually wasn’t all that eager to jump into other folks’ business, but he’d maybe seen some similarities between himself and young Andy.
Speaking so quietly that Scott had to halt his currying actions in order to hear him, Johnny abruptly began to relate a small part of the story. “Turns out his father was killed a while back. There were a coupla ranchers he figured were the ones responsible and . . . Andy was lookin’ ta get even with ‘em.” Barranca tossed his head and nickered in complaint, and Scott set the brush in motion once more. “That’s why he wanted Barranca,” Johnny added softly, “to raise money to hire a gun.”
Scott cocked an eyebrow at that, but his gaze remained focused upon his work. “And did he hire one?”
Johnny had kept his own eyes fastened on the top edge of the half-wall, scraping at the wooden surface with the thumbnail of his gun hand. Now he looked up just a bit, so he could watch for Scott’s reaction. “Told Andy I wouldn’t mind hirin’ out for short money.”
Boston turned at that, all attention now, even while resting one arm in a casual manner across Barranca’s broad back. He studied Johnny for a moment, then “How short?” he asked lightly.
Johnny grinned as he looked down at the floor. “Oh . . . $26.37.”
He could feel Scott continuing to stare searchingly at him, trying to puzzle things out. Johnny figured that right now he’d offer a lot more n’ a penny for the older man’s thoughts. Hell, there’d been times he would have given a twenty dollar gold piece, Scott could be that hard to read. He wondered now how his brother would have reacted to the news if a gunfight had taken place. What if Madrid had actually had to kill those two ranchers on behalf of the “Wolf Cub”? But whatever was going through Scott’s head, as usual, he wasn’t giving too much of it away. All he said was, ”That’s not a bad price. . I’ll have to keep you in mind.”
Now Johnny looked up to coolly meet his brother’s eyes. It was his Madrid voice that responded. “Well, Scott, those that can pay. . . . pay,” he said with a shrug.
Scott regarded him silently for another long moment. “I suppose young Andy got his money’s worth,” he finally said, in an even tone.
Johnny looked away at that, a tiny smile playing about his lips. “Oh . . . .I didn’t shoot anybody, if that’s what you’re worried about. Both those ranchers are still walkin’ around in one piece.”
Scott returned his concentration to a noticeably more emphatic brushing of Barranca’s hide. Several long moments passed while the dandy brush continued its short flicking motions. Johnny busied himself rolling down the sleeves of his familiar pink shirt, fastening the buttons at the wrists, still wishing he knew what was going through that blonde head. Finally, the man actually asked another question; that in itself was a bit of a surprise, but the focus of Scott’s concern was not. “What about the boy?”
“Andy’s gonna be okay. When his old man was killed, those ranchers were there, but it seems like it was an accident. In the end, the kid was beggin’ me not to shoot those two men.”
Scott nodded and continued to wield the brush, now lifting Barranca’s mane and stroking the long neck beneath, something that the palomino particularly enjoyed. Johnny regarded his older brother’s profile thoughtfully for a few moments before offering another comment. “I guess maybe he understands now that killin’ a man ain’t the way t’ solve things.”
That had, after all, been the whole point, hadn’t it? To make sure the kid, who’d had hating and killing on his mind, didn’t end up getting that “education” Johnny had warned Dorrie about, didn’t end up spending all his time studying a gun the way that Johnny had. Yeah, he thought with renewed certainty, Andy was gonna be okay. But when Scott looked up at him with a glint of ——approval?—- in his light blue eyes, Johnny swiftly changed the subject. “You done the other side yet?”
“No,” and a quick shake of the head was the other man’s response, gesturing with the brush in Johnny’s direction. As he strolled around the half wall of the enclosure, Johnny pushed his hat off of his head so that it hung on its cord down his back. Accepting the brush from Scott’s extended hand, he moved to position himself between the wall and Barranca’s left side as Scott exited the stall.
After fending off Barranca’s attempt to nuzzle his head in gratitude, Scott Lancer took his turn at leaning on the top edge of the half wall marking the boundary of the palomino’s stall. As he watched Johnny’s hands guide the brush over the animal’s golden surface, Scott thought about his own rather limited acquaintance with the gunfighter, “Johnny Madrid”. He had noticed that his dark-haired younger brother still wore a slightly guarded look and had been using the cynical low tone that Scott had come to associate with the Madrid persona.
Scott had had a few conversations with “Madrid” in the past; for example, when the brothers were keeping watch over old Charlie Wingate’s construction of the jail in Spanish Wells. He had recognized Johnny Madrid then, in both the words and tone of the sardonic young man who had said that he’d “learned his lessons the hard way”, an announcement which had been followed by a careful discourse on the fatal merits of various types of weaponry. But immediately after, it had unquestionably been Johnny Lancer who had exuberantly grabbed Scott around the neck and joked about making a “professional” out of him.
Of course, it had been Madrid, not Lancer, whom the Easterner had met when he’d first arrived at the Lancer ranch. Scott had subsequently read Murdoch’s Pinkerton reports on his brother’s career as a gunman; he and Johnny had touched upon it as well in a few brief conversations. But Scott had never really wanted to probe too far into what it had actually been like for Johnny to be Madrid. Intellectually, he knew that his brother could not have felt extreme remorse over each and every man he had gunned down— otherwise he would never have survived, could never have gotten to be so good. As an ex-soldier and former prisoner of war, Scott understood all too well how a man could become inured to almost anything, even killing and senseless loss of life. But during the War, it had been a uniform, or rather, a mass of uniforms that he’d shot at, not a single man with a name and a known history. A gunfight seemed much more . . . personal.
It sounded, in some ways, like a duel. Of course he’d read about the famous confrontation, shortly after the turn of the century, in which Vice President Aaron Burr had fatally shot Alexander Hamilton, the bullet ending Burr’s political career as surely as it had ended Hamilton’s life. Closer to home, New England’s own Daniel Webster had, early in his political career, rejected a proffered challenge, possibly sparing himself the fate of an otherwise obscure Maine representative named Cilley who had been killed in a duel with one of his Congressional colleagues. They’d blasted at each other with rifles at one hundred yards in that one, if Scott recalled the story correctly. Purported to be affairs of honor, dueling had apparently not been uncommon in the pre-War South, amongst the “gentry” at least. A gunfight, on the other hand, while perhaps upon occasion entailing some elements of “honor”, seemed more often to be a mercenary affair, involving at least one participant who had “hired out”. Or one who was seeking a reputation, out to prove himself at the cost of another man’s life.
Scott’s rambling thoughts were interrupted by his brother’s voice, still low, but now sounding more “Lancer” than “Madrid”, his words seemingly directed at the brush now grasped firmly in his gun hand. “Thing is, Scott, there were people in that town recognized me. More that’d heard of me.”
Scott nodded slightly; he didn’t fail to notice the undertone of pride in the statement. He’d always understood that his brother had been—still was–rather famous. Pushing away from the half wall, he straightened and stretched his back. With one hand he lifted his hat off of his blond hair, repositioning it on the crown of his slightly damp head. It was nearing noon, and it was getting warmer in the stable, the smells of horses and hay growing stronger, the sound of buzzing flies increasing in volume.
Barranca snorted and Scott reached up and idly stroked the palomino’s face. When Johnny did not immediately elaborate upon his revelation, Scott leaned his right shoulder against the adjacent wall, folded his arms across his chest and settled in to wait, watching his brother at work. Even at such a mundane task as grooming his horse, one could see that Johnny had quick hands. He was shorter than Scott by several inches, with shoulders slightly broader than his own, narrow hips weighted down by the ever- present low-slung gun belt and accompanying hardware. The mercurial former gunfighter could be all threatening dark storm clouds of intensity one moment, then as welcome as the sudden arrival of springtime in New England, his visage might be brightened by that warm, infectious grin.
“Word might get out I’m working again.”
There was no grin, no warmth at all accompanying that spare statement, and, although his brother’s attention still seemed to be on that brush in his hand, Scott kept his own expression carefully neutral, unwilling to reveal that he was instantly concerned. While Johnny had been away, of course his family had wondered where he had ended up, and young Andy’s hometown of McCall’s Crossing had seemed a likely destination. Scott knew that if many more days had passed without any news, then he would likely have suggested to Murdoch that he might make his own journey south. Not that it had been at all surprising that Johnny had neglected to send word of his whereabouts back to the ranch. Before Murdoch’s summons had rescued him from a firing squad and brought him home to Lancer, Johnny had been entirely on his own for quite some time. Scott was fairly certain that during his recent absence it hadn’t once occurred to his younger brother that there were people who might actually be worried about him. Of course, if Johnny had resumed his former identity as the gunfighter Madrid, he would have been even more reluctant to send a message. In the end, evidently, Johnny had managed to avoid having to “face” anyone down in McCall’s Crossing but Scott recognized that a rumor that Johnny Madrid was working again just might bring gunmen into their own area who would be intent upon issuing a challenge. Aware that Johnny’s career as a gunfighter had begun when he’d sought revenge for his mother’s death, Scott had quickly surmised that it was a concern about whereyoung Andy’s anger might lead that explained why his brother had been determined to help the boy—– even at the risk of resurrecting Madrid.
Scott had never seen Johnny Madrid in action, not really. Oh, he’d watched Johnny use his gun, many times, knew very well that his brother was both quick and deadly accurate with the weapon. But he hadn’t yet seen him in anything akin to a gunfight. Scott sighed softly as he considered that it had been enough at first simply to become accustomed to the idea of having a brother at all, let alone one seemingly so different from himself. When the Bostonian had first learned some of the details of the life that Johnny had led, it had seemed altogether unreal.
Scott’s shadowy impressions of his brother’s past had come into much sharper focus when he’d stood and watched that young gun challenge Kansas Bill up in Onyx. Scott had been greatly disturbed by the idea that a youthful up-and-coming gunslinger would try to make his reputation by killing an aged, drunken has-been, unsettled enough that he’d even mentioned it to Johnny upon returning to Lancer. His brother hadn’t seemed at all surprised. “Oh, there’s those who don’t much care how they come by their reputations,” he’d said darkly, with a knowing smile, “or even what kind, long’s they got one.” Scott had nodded soberly at that, and had started to walk away, his question asked and answered.
“So what happened?” the younger man had tossed out before Scott could effect a retreat to his own room. Scott certainly had not intended to mention his own role in the event—standing behind Bill Sharpe in the shadow of the Onyx stable, cradling his carbine. “He backed down, fortunately,” Scott had replied from the doorway, intending to let it go at that, but Johnny’s curiosity had been piqued. “Backed down? From an old man, with people watchin’? . .Now why’d he go and do that, Boston?” Knowing from the gleam in his brother’s eye that Johnny had pretty much guessed why, Scott had come clean. “I suppose it may have had something to do with where I was standing . . . . or the gun I was holding,” he’d said lightly, confirming Johnny’s suspicions before making his departure.
At the time, Scott hadn’t stopped to analyze his actions, his sole focus being on introducing young Willie to the grandfather of whom he was so proud. Since the well known gunman had never responded to the letter the lawyer had sent him about his grandson, leaving the boy in the shack outside of town and going on ahead to find Kansas Bill on his own had simply seemed to Scott a prudent course of action. But when Willie had asked the hauntingly familiar question “What if he doesn’t want me?” Scott had known then and there that he would do anything and everything to see to it that the calm assurances he had offered to the tow-headed youngster were justified. Of course, he had had no way of knowing that he would have to spend days sobering up –—and cleaning up—the former “town tamer”, let alone back him up in a gunfight.
Later on, when Kansas Bill had “called out” Col. Andrews, Scott remembered feeling certain that one of the men wouldn’t be walking away from the fight and he’d feared that it would be the veteran gunman– that young Willie Sharpe was about to witness his recently met grandfather’s bloody demise. Scott had been more than ready to back up Kansas again, if any of Andrews’ men had intervened, but when that seemed unlikely, he had very reluctantly stepped back to watch the event unfold. It had all turned out well, but after hearing Johnny’s assessment that “when a red-eyed old timer goes and shoots a gun out of a man’s hand it’s nothin’ but pure damn luck,” Scott had felt some regret over his decision to acquiesce. Scott realized now that if he were to ever witness his brother facing down a man in the street, his greater confidence in Johnny’s ability would still be more than offset by his intensely personal interest in the outcome. And now Johnny was suggesting that such a situation could very well arise.
When Johnny’s soft drawl interrupted his thoughts, Scott was startled to hear a reference to those events up in Onyx. “You remember you told me ‘bout that young gun backin’ down, after he’d called out Kansas Bill?” Johnny asked, without looking at Scott.
Johnny stopped his work and thoughtfully studied the brush in his hand, before turning and looking over at Scott with his deceptively casual grin in place. “Well, I figure you musta had some cold eyed look on your face, to scare him off like that.” Scott’s own carefully neutral expression did not change. “You’re gonna hafta show that t’ me sometime, maybe I can add it to my . . t’ my . .”
“What’s that?” Johnny asked quickly.
Scott hesitated, mildly surprised that he had to think about it. Repertoire meant . . . well, repertoire. “It’s a list,” he said finally. “Of your skills and abilities.”
“Not sure I got a list. I can read a gun hand. I’m fast—real fast.” Scott nodded briefly in the intensity of his brother’s gaze. “I pretty much always hit what I’m aimin’ at.” Johnny recited these attributes in a matter of fact voice, his tone indicating that the list was complete. Scott was about to protest that the younger man’s abilities were not limited to that one area of expertise, but, thinking that it might be time to lighten the mood, he first wracked his brain for some suitably facetious examples of “other skills” to point out. Before the Easterner could come up with what he considered suitable additions to the list, Johnny added his own appendix.
“I don’t need any back up,” Scott heard him add quietly. Johnny’s meaning was unmistakable.
Backing Barranca up so that he could pass in front of the horse, Johnny exited the stall. Scott remained motionless for a few beats, then straightened up, pushed himself away from the wall where he had been leaning and turned to face Johnny, recrossing his arms on his chest. Standing at the door of the stall, Johnny studied Scott’s now closed off expression and hooded eyes and waited.
“So what do you expect me to do, Brother?” Where another man might have sliced off the question with an angry or defensive edge to it, Boston just set it out there, like he simply wanted to know.
“Stay outta it.”
Scott expelled a breath, allowed a wry smile to touch his lips, but made no other response.
“I mean it, Scott. If it comes to it, you just let things work the way they’re s’posed to.”
Scott fastened his best ironic look on his brother. “Right. Of course,” he said, gesturing with one hand. “There are rules of gun fighting and everyone follows them.”
“There’s rules. I follow ‘em.”
There was a long pause, as they stood regarding each other. Even Barranca remained motionless. Scott considered that for duelists, there were in fact written rules, many men actually followed them as it was a matter of honor to do so. He was far less certain that the same was true of participants in a gunfight, at least based on his own scant observation.
“Well,” he offered carefully, “I’m not from around here, so perhaps I can’t be expected to know the rules.”
Johnny sighed. “It ain’t like I’m gonna go lookin’ for a fight,” he pointed out, with just the slightest hint of exasperation in his voice. After a beat, he added, “If I can avoid it, Scott, . . . I will.”
Somewhat reassured by the quiet sincerity in his brother’s tone, Scott nodded. “That shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Abruptly, Johnny’s gaze changed from liquid blue to solid sapphire. “Well, like you just said, you’re not from around here.” His head tilted and his chin jutted out slightly, but he still tried to keep his voice slow and easy.
Scott pressed his lips together, held Johnny’s gaze for a moment and then abruptly broke it off. Apparently there was more to it than simply accepting or rejecting a challenge; Johnny seemed almost to be suggesting that he would feel forced to comply, if he were in fact, ”called out”. Why? Reputation? Pride . . or perhaps Honor? As much as Scott’s affinity and affection for his younger brother had grown steadily once the awkwardness of their initial meeting was behind them, he had to acknowledge that he still knew relatively little about the gunfighter known as “Madrid”.
Slowly, Scott reached around his back with his right hand to pull his gloves out from where they were tucked beneath his belt. Appearing to devote his attention to pulling them on, Scott continued to ponder the subject at hand. If Johnny was one day unable to avoid a confrontation, his elder brother knew that he would be hard pressed to simply “stay out of it”. Duelists, as Scott understood it, typically had “seconds”– friends to carry out the preliminary negotiations for the combatants, and to act as witnesses to insure that the proper procedures were followed. Ideally, the seconds would prevent the duel from ever taking place. Now that he thought of it, Scott realized that perhaps he had served in that capacity for Kansas Bill, though the veteran gunman was no doubt entirely unfamiliar with the concept, just as he had been unaware of Scott’s protective position, stationed in the shadows well behind him. And the Easterner was reasonably sure that even Mr. Sharpe would have vehemently insisted that he “didn’t need any back up”, despite all evidence to the contrary. He may not have “followed the rules” up in Onyx, but Scott knew without a doubt that he had prevented the first gunfight from taking place; based on his subsequent conversation with Johnny, he was now convinced that he should have done more to prevent the second one as well.
For Johnny, the uncertainty in his older brother’s eyes did not go unnoticed; in fact it prompted his own look of concern, an expression that Scott, his concentration focused elsewhere, failed to see. It was true that just because some man with a gunhand thought he might want to take you on, you didn’t have to go along with it. But sometimes, well, sometimes you couldn’t exactly walk away, either. As Johnny wondered how to explain this to Boston in a way that his Eastern-bred brother would understand, he found himself automatically studying those hands that were being eased into the tan leather work gloves. Large hands, with long fingers and those big oval nails—just like Murdoch’s. Steady, as usual. Not usually too many signs there.
Johnny was used to noticing little details — and looking for “tells”. When he’d mentioned that he’d been recognized down in McCall’s Crossing, he’d seen, out of the corner of his eye, his brother press his lips together then, his fleeting concern quickly masked. That had been one of those things that had intrigued Johnny when he’d first met Scott: he’d been surprised that his new found brother had been so difficult to read, puzzled that a city fella was able to conceal things so well. When he’d finally learned about the year that the former Union officer had spent in a Confederate prison camp, well, then it had made some sense. Seemed like the college boy must have learned a few hard lessons of his own there, gotten himself a different kind of “education” from what they taught him at . . . that school, Harvard.
Scott kept his gaze fixed on his gloved hands, methodically pushing the material down between the fingers, but Johnny doubted he’d be able to see much in his brother’s eyes anyway. The former gunfighter was less accustomed to looking there—facing a man in the street, his expression shaded by the brim of his hat, it wasn’t the eyes you watched, but always the hands, waiting for the tell-tale twitch of the fingers that would warn you that your opponent was going to make his move. But inside, close up, if you were watching, you often could see something hidden deep in a man’s eyes.
His brother’s eyes, now, typically had that sad look to ‘em. It was something about the slant of the eyelids, the left one angled more than the right, which gave him a squinting aspect. . . . . Details again. With Scott, mostly what Johnny’d noticed were those times when he told the man something that most people would have reacted to, times there hadn’t been so much as a flicker in those eyelids.
Unwilling to let the subject go, Johnny stood and waited until Scott looked up at him, then tossed him the brush. Scott deftly caught it in his gloved hands. As he turned away to return the implement to its place on a nearby shelf, Johnny addressed his brother from behind.
“I figure I can still get the drop on most men, ‘specially if I stay in practice.”
Scott glanced over his shoulder briefly at that, wondering exactly what “practicing” might entail.
To the Bostonian’s surprise, Johnny’s next words sounded almost —–apologetic? “Look, it ain’t like I don’t ‘preciate you watching my back, Brother, . . . I do.” He softly repeated the last two words, before he continued. “Other times. But if it comes to a gunfight, there’s just a particular way it has t’ be.”
There was no response from Scott, who was rearranging a few of the items on the small shelf. The set of brushes and currycombs had actually been his gift to Johnny, in honor of his first birthday since his return to the ranch.
“’Course, you might do a better job watchin’ my back if you were carryin’ a gun.”
Scott turned at that, not making any effort at all to hide his annoyance, which, with his hat still set back on the crown of his head, was clearly on view. The blue-grey eyes narrowed and his gaze hardened when Johnny added “Jelly must be slipping,” with a friendly grin, trying to lighten his previous remarks. Scott just looked at him for a moment, then moved to the doorway of the tack room. The older man very deliberately reached inside the entry way with one blue sleeved arm and lifted his gun belt down from a nail just inside the door. He looped the buckled circle of leather over his left shoulder, the holstered weapon dangling beneath his elbow.
“Yeah, that’s better.”
Gripping the belt on his shoulder with his gloved left hand, Scott sighed softly and glanced down at the hay-strewn planks of the stable floor. It was true that he had forgotten to don the belt on a few occasions, simply hadn’t thought of it. In truth, the Easterner failed to see the need to put it on each and every time that he stepped through the front door. Johnny, on the other hand, well, Scott suspected that his brother slept with his gun under his pillow, if not actually in his hand. Out on the trail at least, that probably wasn’t really much of an exaggeration.
“It’s time for lunch. Are you coming?”
Johnny shook his head, murmuring that Maria has just fed him and announcing with a pleased expression that she was planning something special for supper. His own face still serious, Scott nodded and turned to leave.
“I didn’t say anythin’ to Murdoch yet.”
Realizing that Johnny might have a bit more to say to him, Scott halted en route to the bright square of the open stable doors. The damp, darker streak dividing the back of his blue shirt was plainly visible as he stood and waited with his head slightly bowed in the warm gloom.
“Not likely anyone would come out here, more like it’d happen in some town.”
Scott half-turned at that. “I didn’t realize sheriffs allowed gunfights in their towns.”
“One in McCall’s Crossing wasn’t trying to put a stop t’anything. But, you’re right . . . most lawmen wouldn’t stand for it.” There was a long pause, then a short exhale, before Johnny continued. “Fact is, I’ve had myself a little talk with the badges ‘round here—Val, Gabe . . . Sam Jayson.
Scott’s surprise was again evident. To Johnny at least, although Boston probably thought he’d covered it. Johnny shrugged his shoulders slightly, then offered an explanation. “I figure a man’s just trying to do his job, oughta know what t’expect.”
Scott immediately considered that it couldn’t have been easy for Johnny to knock on the door to a sheriff’s office and make his introduction, revealing a connection to a past he had been trying to leave behind. But then he smiled in spite of himself, giving his brother an arch look. “Sam was perhaps in need of a bit more . . . . explanation . . . . than the others.”
Johnny grinned back at him. “You got that right.”
Scott’s own smile quickly faded. How often, he wondered, did the two of them resort to humor when a subject became too difficult. . . .too personal? Johnny’s friendly grin had been much in evidence throughout the conversation. Not that he questioned their friendship at all; Scott had no doubt whatsoever that those feelings were mutual and genuine. Still, Johnny’s disarming smile was frequently a tactic, one that Scott had to acknowledge was effective more often than not. Standing with his gloved hands on his hips, he contemplated his younger brother, wondering whether or not to pursue the discussion. Scott really didn’t feel like ruining Johnny’s homecoming by debating something that might not even happen. He decided that his first task as Madrid’s self-appointed “second” was to educate himself; it would be impossible to formulate any sort of plan unless he first learned a bit more about the protocol involved in a gunfight. Reluctant to enlist Val Crawford’s assistance, since the man was quite friendly with Johnny, Scott determined that Sheriff Gabe might prove to be his most likely source of information and resolved to have his own little talk with the lawman the next time that he was in Spanish Wells.
“I’ll see you later, Brother,” Scott offered in a conciliatory tone, then turned to leave, adjusting his hat so that it sat more squarely on his head as he walked away. Johnny watched until his brother’s long strides had carried him out of the stable, then turned to face Barranca when the animal emitted a soft snort. “I know,” Johnny said softly as he stroked the horse’s broad face. “I know. He didn’t ever say he’d stay out of it.”
But, even though he hadn’t made any promises, his brother now knew what Johnny expected of him. Johnny Lancer didn’t really trust too many men, Madrid even fewer. Scott Lancer was positioned pretty high on a very short list. One thing Johnny was certain of, Boston would want to do the “right” thing; though the two of them had sometimes disagreed on what that was. . . . Even if the man didn’t like what was being asked, Johnny hoped that Scott could still be counted on not to cross him.
With a final pat to the palomino’s neck, Johnny turned and strolled out of the stable, boot heels tapping a leisurely staccato rhythm on the wooden planks. He paused momentarily at the entrance, to stretch in the sunshine and smile in satisfaction as his eyes traveled around the yard, taking in some of the changes that had occurred during his absence. Someone had replaced the top rail on a section of the corral fence— a task Johnny had been meaning to get to for some time. Maybe I’ll get back to clearing out that stream this afternoon, he thought, that is if Murdoch hasn’t already come up with a different plan. Deciding that he might as well join his family after all, Johnny sauntered gait towards the front door of the hacienda.
He’d made it a few steps inside before he halted in his tracks, raised his hand and slipped off his hat. Head bowed, hat in hand, Johnny very slowly and deliberately paced backwards to the hall tree whose upper branches were now festooned with Murdoch’s hat and Scott’s, their gun belts dangling like forbidden fruit down below. His own hat quickly joined the others. Even though he was alone in the entryway, Johnny couldn’t stop his lips from curving into a small, self-conscious grin as he worked the silver buckle which would release the wide leather strap encircling his hips. After hanging up his own gun, Johnny paused for a moment to take in the display; then, without another backwards glance, he headed towards the kitchen, following the sound of murmuring voices.
SBC May 2004
Historical information from “Duel!” by Ross Drake, Smithsonian magazine, March 2004
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