Word Count 2,526
In honor and memory of actor William Smith
Thanks to Cat, Rob, and Chris for the beta
A huge Thank You to Sandy for the picture!
A Laredo crossover
Hot, dry air made it hard to breathe. Dust devils swirled in their dizzying dances down the empty streets and into alleyways; even the horned toads sought relief from the sear of the afternoon sun. It was a typical August day in the border town of Laredo; hot, dry, and lifeless.
Ranger Joe Riley watched the shadow crawl down his outstretched legs and leather boots as the late day sun settled in the west to finally cast him in the shadow of the Company B Texas Ranger building. With Capt. Parmalee called to Austin and fellow rangers Chad Cooper and Reese Bennet out on assignment, Riley was assigned to watch the town. The heat forced him to shelter outside on the boardwalk rather than sit behind the desk in the stuffy office. It was understood that any paperwork would be left for the captain to complete on his return and that Ranger Riley’s only duty was to keep the peace. Funny how that works out… or not.
Laredo had been quiet, but then, who in their right mind would have enough gumption to raise any ruckus on a hot day like this? Nope, all the rowdies were takin’ a siesta, Riley thought. Hell, the snakes and scorpions took cover with the horned toads.
Keen, squinting eyes read between the heatwaves that slithered upward like hundreds of tiny snakes into the air, creating an undulating barrier that made it hard to see. A curtain that warped movement, but something grabbed Riley’s attention and brought him to full alert. A horse and rider walked into town, slowly, cautiously breaking through the distortion of the heat, and came Riley’s way. The rider sat in the saddle with the ease of one born to horseback but rode aware of all around him. The figure was familiar, but the Ranger couldn’t be sure… yet. Familiar, yes, he’d seen it many times before but would it be friend or foe? Time would tell, and soon.
The rider kept looking straight ahead and led one to believe he focused on the end of the street, but Joe Riley knew the eyes searched the alleyways and second-story windows under the low brim of the hat. Always alert, ever watchful.
And then his thoughts snapped into place. Yeah, Riley knew him. He pulled himself out of the chair to lean his left shoulder against the roof support post, leaving his right arm free as the rider reined his horse to a halt in front of him.
The young man stayed mounted, leaned to rest his forearms on the saddle horn, then tipped his hat back on his head and awarded Riley that infuriating and insolent smirk Joe remembered so well.
Riley had seen that smirk before, many times, in fact. That smirk would probably get the kid killed long before his time, and there was just enough sass in those startling blue eyes to push the wrong man into doing something very stupid and wind up very dead. But Riley wasn’t that man.
“Heard ya joined the Rangers but didn’t believe it. Looks like I heard right, though,” the newcomer said through a reckless smile.
Riley leveled a stare; hooded eyes that didn’t blink held the man in place and dared him to step out of the saddle.
“Lookin’ for anyone in particular, or ya just… passin’ through?” The corner of Riley’s mouth twitched with the question.
Those piercing eyes danced as he witnessed the gesture that could not be controlled. “Oh, I’m just… passin’ through, Ranger.” And the smile grew into a grin.
“Good, cuz we don’t like ‘your kind’ in our town.”
“Yeah? An’ what ‘kind’ is that, Ranger?”
“Oh, a rowdy desperado, smart-mouthed gunhawk! Why don’t cha climb on down offa that horse an’ join me for a drink, Johnny!”
Johnny Madrid laughed and dismounted. Slapping each other on the back in renewed camaraderie, they made their way to the sanctuary of The Laredo Saloon.
“How long’s it been, kid?” Joe asked as he signaled the barkeep for two beers. Fatty nodded, and before Joe could get comfortable in the chair, there were two glasses of refreshing brew, complete with foam sliding down the outside to form a puddle on the scarred tabletop.
“Oh, I figure it ta be about two years, close enough anyway.”
Damn, if that beer don’t look good! Johnny thought and raised his glass to Joe. “Ta old times!”
Joe smiled and held his glass up to the toast. “Old times, kid!”
Hours stretched into evening as the two sat talking over times spent together, reliving the good along with the bad, and remembering old friends could have lasted into the early morning, but, conscious of his duties, Riley stood. “C’mon, kid. Hafta make the rounds.”
Johnny eased out of the chair and followed Joe out to the boardwalk.
As Riley and Madrid passed the dry goods store, Elmer Neilson acknowledged them with a wave. “New recruit, Mr. Riley?”
Joe laughed. “Maybe; if I can talk ‘im into it!” They continued down the walk.
Johnny laughed and shook his head. “Ain’t one ta be pushin’ people around.”
“Well, some of ‘em need a little pushin’. Seems ta me I watched you push a few,” Joe smiled.
“Nope, that was pursuadin’!” Johnny grinned.
“Yeah, sure, but if’n I remember right, you persuaded pretty damn hard!”
“Got the job done, didn’t I?”
Joe laughed. “Yeah, ya sure did that, kid, ya sure did that!”
“Why’d ya quit, Joe? You were good, coulda been the best.”
“Ahh, I figured there’d always be someone— some smart-ass kid,” and he grinned at Johnny, “that’d come along an’ was gonna be just a mite faster’n me. Wasn’t a hard decision ta make, wasn’t gettin’ any younger.” Joe fell silent for a while, then, “Johnny, ya need ta put that life behind ya. Ain’t gonna live long…”
Johnny sighed. “Kinda hard ta put it behind ya when it keeps chasin’ ya, not lettin’ ya go…”
And Joe knew that to be true, but he had to try. He knew Johnny would one day meet his match; it might not happen now or even a year from now, but one day he would hear of the death of Johnny Madrid… one day.
With the rounds finished and no trouble except for Ol’ Luther, the town drunk sleeping across the boardwalk, Ranger Joe Riley and Johnny Madrid, pistolero, returned to the saloon and took a table in the corner. The evening cooled down, and more folks were out and about. Joe watched as Johnny noted who came into the saloon and, more importantly, who left. The kid’s always watchin’… prob’bly why he’s still alive. Then he asked, “Hey, Johnny, who’s that fella ya used ta ride with, scroungy lookin’, always cranky… ah, what’s ‘is name?”
Johnny laughed. Joe could be talking about only one person that fit the description. “Ha, ya mean Crawford? Val Crawford?”
The smile stretched across the ranger’s mouth. “Yeah! That’s the one. He still kickin’?”
“Oh, yeah, ‘spo’sta meet up with him in a week or so. Should be ready ta travel by then; he took a bullet ta the chest; shot by a little old lady that couldn’t make out us good guys from the bad guys. Mierda, Joe, I thought he was dead! I told him he had ta pull through or I was gonna carve on his tombstone that Val Crawford was gunned down by an old woman. Guess he took me seriously cuz he’s waitin’ for me ta get back.” Johnny sat forward, left elbow on the table, and settled his chin in his hand, allowing his right to be ready should the need arise.
Joe instinctively knew Johnny went after them, the ‘bad guys’ that robbed the old woman’s store. “Ya catch up with ‘em?”
The blue eyes met his. “Yup.” Johnny changed the subject. “Hey, heard you were working with two others, some fancy hombre an’ another, older…”
Joe chuckled. “Yeah, that’s Chad Cooper, an’ the other’n is Reese Bennett. They’re off on assignment, so’s our captain. Wish they’da been here; I’d like for ya ta meet ‘em. Hey, can ya stick around for a day or two? They oughtta be back by then,” Joe asked with a hopeful smile. He sure would like Johnny to meet Chad an’ Reese, an’ the Capt’n too, a course.
Johnny watched the brown eyes take on a ‘settled’ look. Ha, Riley’s lookin’ more content than I ever seen him. Glad he got outta the game before… well, just glad he’s out. “Ah, I gotta get goin’ if I’m gonna meet up with Crawford in Santa Fe. There’s a job ta check out down in Socorro if Val’s up to it.”
Joe, though disappointed, understood. In the kid’s line of work, ya hadta go where the money was. Well, that was the life of a gunfighter, and Riley understood; hell, he lived that life for many years and knew what it took and how hard it was to stay ahead of the game. He liked Madrid and wished the kid would find something else, something safe. But the kid had made a name for himself; he was fast and, from all accounts, was getting faster. But, one day… Well, Joe wasn’t going to dwell on what could happen.
“So, tell me, Joe, ya really like this ranger job? Seems kinda boring if all’s your doin’ is dragging drunks off the boardwalk.” Johnny picked up the half-empty beer glass and took a long, satisfying drink.
“Oh, we, ah, we have excitement. Always chasin’ outlaws, Chad’s always chasin’ some girl, an’ Reese, well, Reese mostly is chasin’ his tail! But the Cap’n, he keeps us busy, sendin’ us out on assignments ta bring back all them desperadoes.”
Johnny snorted. “That’s good, cuz I’d hate ta see ya wastin’ your time battling them blasted drunks!”
“Even that get interestin’ some times. Ya oughtta see ol’ Luther’s wife! She’ll put the fear of God inta ya! Hell, that’s why Luther drinks!”
The patrons had long left the saloon; the girls retired after finding that Joe and his good looking friend were going to talk over old times all night, and bartender, Fatty, was slumped in a chair behind the bar wishing Riley and the newcomer would leave so he could close up.
But the hours dragged on with many laughs and a few sullen moments. Incidents from their past together were remembered, celebrated, and mourned.
“Hey, ya remember that time in Silver City?”
Hell, yeah, I r’member Silver City! Ya saved my hide in that fight!
“Sure do! What was that girl’s name? Maria?”
“Nope, it was Elena…”
An’ what a beauty she was!
“Yeah, hey, whatever happened ta old Charlie… what’s ‘is name?”
“Yup, that’s the one…”
And on and on. They both remembered the close calls, the near misses as they covered for the other and saved each other’s lives.
Joe finished the beer in front of him and sighed. “Well, looks like we closed down another saloon, Johnny. How many ya think that makes over the years?”
Johnny laughed. “Too many!”
“Hey, kid, ya never stopped by the hotel ta get a room. Why doncha bunk in the barracks tonight. Nobody at the hotel desk now anyway.”
“Nah, don’t wanna put anyone outta their bunk. That’s alright; I’ll stay at the livery. Wouldn’t be the first time I slept with my horse,” Johnny said around a chuckle.
“Well, neither Cooper or Bennett are here, ya can take one a their bunks.”
“Ah, that wouldn’t be against any regulations, would it, Ranger Riley?” Johnny laughed.
“Well, yeah, but I ain’t gonna tell! C’mon!”
Madrid had to admit the bunk was comfortable, better than spending the night with Valiente. “’ Preciate this, Joe, thanks.”
“Glad ta do it, amigo. Glad ta do it.”
Johnny’s last conscious thought was of Joe and the relief that came knowing he was out of the game.
Joe laid awake for a long time, thinking again that the kid needed to get out while he could— while he was still alive. Madrid was the best; there was no doubt about that, but a pistolero couldn’t stay on top forever. Damn! Joe wished something would come along, something good in his life for a change. He knew the story of Johnny’s past— a father that tossed his wife and their two-year-old son out like they were trash. They scraped and scrounged for what they could. Johnny was only ten when his mama died, leaving him alone, stealing and fighting for food, learning the hard way to defend himself, or die.
But Joe knew another side to the kid. A human side that most in the business didn’t have, didn’t come close to having. Johnny didn’t kill for the fun of it. Didn’t kill unless there was no other choice. The kid had a heart where most had a void, a black pit. How many kids had Joe seen take that road where there was no return? Dozens of them, but Madrid was different, very different, and didn’t deserve to die, buried in some unmarked grave on Boot Hill, or worse, to die alone and left to rot in the blazing sun. Damn, let him find a way out!
Dawn blazed into full light, and all too soon, it was time for Johnny to leave. They had spent the evening reliving the past, and today, they had to face the future. Ranger Joe Riley was having a hard time saying goodbye. He looked at the outstretched hand and knocked it to the side, then stepped forward, wrapped his arms around the kid for a brief hug, and stepped back. The move shocked them both. And pleased them both. As if choreographed, the men looked down, suddenly finding their boots interesting, then as if cued, the grins broke out, and they laughed.
“See ya ‘round, kid!”
“Sure, Ranger, see ya ‘round.” Johnny swung into his saddle and, with a two-fingered touch to the brim of his hat, rode north out of Laredo.
Ranger Joe Riley watched until the figure was a speck on the horizon. Would he ever see the kid again? He hoped he would hear the kid found something other than being a pistolero, something good.
Was it a natural-born talent, or had the boy practiced and honed his skill to a razor’s edge after witnessing his mother’s slaughter? Whatever way it happened, his reputation grew, and now there were others who sought him out, wanting that reputation they had not worked to get and, in the end, would only bring them their death. Madrid was that good. But for how long?
“Damn, it was good ta see ya, kid!” Ranger Joe Riley settled in the chair to watch the heatwaves slither into the air and disappear. Joe revisited his thoughts, wanting Johnny Madrid to find a different path, one that would lead him somewhere safe. The kid deserved more from this life, and Riley could only hope things would work out for him. Hell, Laredo could always use another ranger…
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