Word count 1,548
This story was written in answer to a writing challenge at email@example.com
The challenge was to take a scene or storyline in a movie and transfer it to the world of Lancer. You’ll find the answer to which movie I used at the end of the story.
“Val. Val!” Johnny banged his fist on the door, then peered in the window. When nothing happened, he went back to the door and banged some more. He could see a glimpse of lamplight between the jail’s blinds and the blue curtains. Dios, where the hell was he? “Val. Dammit. Open up.”
He was about to thump the door another five times when it jerked open and his fist almost smacked into Val’s face. The way he was feeling, he damn-well wished it had. Maybe. No, not really. Dios, he was strung so tight, he was liable to split in two. “It’s about time. I’ve been banging on that door for half an hour.”
“Yeah and I’ve got the loose teeth to prove it. You wanna pay my dentist bill?”
He pushed past Val and walked inside at a fast clip. It was half-dark in the jail with just the one lamp spluttering away. And cold. He rubbed his hands together. “You coulda lit a fire.”
Val swung the door shut with a kick. “Yeah, I coulda. But I didn’t.”
Johnny rubbed his hands together some more, then headed across to the door that led to the cells. He yanked it open and looked inside. The cells were empty, save for a cot and mattress and a folded army blanket in each one. Good. He could bed down here as well as anywhere else. His boot heels clattered on the wooden floor as he walked across to Val’s desk. It was a satisfying sound. Said he was doing something instead of being a punching bag for Lang and his cronies. Boy, he couldn’t wait for morning to come. One way or the other, Lang was going to find out who Johnny Madrid was.
“What happened to old Mac?” He shot the question at Val then picked up the chunk of rock Val used as a paper weight to hold his wanted posters down. “I thought you had him locked up, to sleep it off.”
“Nope. I let him go.”
Johnny hefted the rock a few times in his right hand. Something was nagging at him. Something wasn’t right. He looked around Val’s office.
And nearly fell over.
“Val, what the hell happened here?” All the usual papers and books on Val’s desk were in neat stacks. It was like Teresa had come in here and worked her magic. “And what are you doing with that bag? Least, I think it’s a bag.” He whistled. “That thing must be a hundred years old.” The carpet weave was almost threadbare, and the handle was a dirty piece of rope.
“Life’s too short, Johnny.” Val sounded even grumpier than normal.
“What are you talking about? You got your laundry in there?”
Val looked down at the bag, then lifted it, like he’d almost forgotten he was holding the thing. “Nope. I packed up all my gear.”
Johnny’s head was still ringing after the fracas in the saloon. His cheek was stinging. He wiped his hand along his face—sure enough, his fingers came away wet. Maybe that was why he was having a hard time following what the heck Val was talking about. He started to smile but he didn’t feel too certain about letting it get too wide. “You leaving?”
“I’m going on va-ca-tion. That’s what that fancy brother of yours likes to call it. A permanent one.”
Johnny tossed the rock then dug around in the desk drawer. After some scrounging, he found an old bandana. “What are you talking about? We’ve got us a fight in the morning.” He sniffed the rag. “Gee, Val, you use this to wipe your butt?” At least the enamel jug on the back table had some water in it. He sloshed some water on the bandana then dabbed the cloth against his cheek. Ow. He was gonna have a good bruise…
“Not we. You.”
Johnny’s hand slowed. That last blow from Lang must’ve done something to his hearing. But he didn’t rush. Once the blood was no longer showing, he threw the rag in the jug and turned around. Slowly. Val didn’t smile much. Almost never. But this Val was different. More like the Val who was gonna leave Johnny to face Criswell and his thugs—alone. Did someone get to Val again? Lie to him? “What are you saying, Val?” He shrugged and shook his head but even rattling his brains didn’t make any sense of what Val was saying. “Why are you doing this?”
Val thumped the bag down. “Because you can’t win, Johnny. This guy’ll kill you to death.”
“And I don’t aim to be the one to hafta go knocking on yer old man’s door.”
“Lang’s just another gunfighter.”
“He ain’t just another fighter. Lang’s a wrecking machine.” Val was spluttering so much he just about sprayed the room.
“Gee, Val. Calm down. I don’t know what’s made you so damn mad.”
“Because he’s hungry. He’s hungry for a fight and hungry for a killing—and you ain’t been hungry since your old man called you home.”
Only his pride stopped him from flinching. “What do you know about it.”
“I know one thing—I don’t aim to stand by and see you killed. And if I can’t talk you out of it, I don’t aim to be watching. I’ll let my deputy handle things. He’s been angling for a promotion ever since I hired him.”
Johnny started laughing but it wasn’t the type that came from his belly. Not with the way it was twisting right now. “You think I can’t take him? Is that what you think?”
Val kicked the old bag so hard it skittered across the floor and spilled a couple of Val’s checked shirts. “I know you can’t. What have you done these last two years, ‘sides herding cows and sleeping between clean sheets on a soft bed every night? You’ve lost your edge, Johnny.”
“You said that once already.”
Johnny’s legs almost sagged. He perched his butt on Val’s desk and picked up the rock again. He took his time breathing. It felt like he was trapped under a waterfall, taking in water, ‘stead of air. He hefted the rock, then squeezed it in the palm of his hand. When he opened his hand, the rock hadn’t crumbled. It looked just the same as when it sat on Val’s desk, gathering dust. Johnny stared at the jagged edges, turning it over and over with his fingers. “You know what Lang did, Val.” He murmured the words. Maybe Val just needed reminding?
“I know.” Val picked up his bag and started punching his shirts back into it, like they were fighting with him to get out. “I know. And a few years ago, you and me both woulda taken him down. But you’re not a wild-eyed, sixteen-year-old kid with a hair-trigger, anymore. You’re a rancher. You got responsibilities. Folk that care about you. Tell me one thing, Johnny.” And he started poking the air as if he was hitting Johnny’s chest. “Would you be doing this if Murdoch and Scott weren’t in San Francisco?”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
Val stopped shoving and snapped the bag shut. “Maybe everything. But how the hell would I know?”
Johnny stared at the rock. Even in the gloom, tiny specks caught the light and sparkled. Dios. When had he ever thought about the odds before?
A thud told him Val had put the bag down but even as Val’s footsteps got close to him, Johnny didn’t look up.
Val kicked Johnny’s boot. “Lang wants to take you down. He’s been riding you hard since he rode in three days ago. But I did some asking around. He gunned down three of Jake Halter’s gang in Tucson just a few months back.”
Val was right. Lang had been riding Johnny ever since he rode into town. Johnny knew it. Maybe even liked the way the smell of a fight made the blood pound in his ears. And now, just when he finally called Lang out, Val was backing down. Worse than that, he was running.
Well, Johnny had had enough. He stood up and eyeballed Val. “You saw what he did to this town, Val.”
“I know. But he’s kept it legal. I got no call to be arresting him.”
“I can take him. In a fair fight.”
“You’ve got about as much sense in you as a headless chicken. You know that.”
“Dammit, Val. What’s got into you?”
Val snatched his hat from the desk. “Johnny, I’m trying to tell you the truth. What’s happened to you is the worst thing that can happen to any gunfighter.”
“And what’s that?”
Val didn’t even hesitate. “You got civilized.”
The movie I used for this challenge was a scene from Rocky lll between Rocky and Mickey, incorporating some of the original dialogue from the movie.
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