#1 in the Ghosts series
Word count: 17,555
In a quiet looking town, in front of a quiet little saloon, two men dismounted their horses. The first man was tall and blond, with light blue eyes, a handsome face and an easy gait. The other man, dark hair in need of a trimming, piercing blue eyes and a boyish grin that crept without warning from the corner of his mouth, hesitated before dismounting. His eyes swept over the street quickly, taking in his entire surroundings in a matter of seconds. Then swiftly he dismounted, flipped his mount’s reins over the hitching post, and proceeded to slap the dust from his clothes. Finished with his task, he looked up at the other man who was a couple of inches taller than he was, and let the boyish grin spread across his face. “What d’ya say I buy the first round, Scott?”
Scott put his arm around the other’s shoulders. “That, my dear Brother Johnny, is probably the best idea you’ve had all day!”
The brothers walked up the step onto the boardwalk and entered the saloon. As usual, the bar was situated in the back of the room. The various patrons barely raised their heads to give the newcomers a half-hearted glance. A couple of dusty, sweat-stained cowboys hardly created a stir in this small, crossroads town. Its only claim to fame was the fact that it was the only town for a good half-day’s ride in any direction, so the townspeople were quite used to seeing a new face passing through. Walking between the tables, Johnny called out to the bartender, “Hey! You have two very thirsty men in need of a couple of cold beers here!”
Johnny tossed his hat onto the counter, gave his shoulders a badly needed stretch, then bent over and withdrew a small moneybag out of his boot. Tossing a coin onto the bar, he leaned over and watched as the proprietor proceeded to fill two mugs. Once they were filled to a decent level, the man walked up and set the two beers in front of the brothers. “Can’t vouch for how cold they are, but they should do the trick, anyway.”
Scott nodded in agreement, then turned back to watch Johnny with amusement, his younger brother licking his lips in anticipation of the frothy malt. “Hey, Johnny,” Scott grinned, “if you plan on drooling, I’d prefer you did it in your own beer.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. “When I’m buying, I can drool where I want!” Suppressing a grin, Johnny turned around and leaned against the bar. He surveyed the scene in front of him with an amused smile. “In every town, it’s always the same. A drunk, a couple of men playing cards, a really ugly saloon girl, and…” here he paused for effect while he raised his boot, “a really sticky floor.”
Scott also leaned back against the bar, his beer poised inches from his lips. “Ah, brother, this time you’re wrong.”
“And how’s that?”
“The last saloon had two drunks.” Nodding a toast, Scott savored a long swig of his beer, then turned back towards the bartender, “Where’s a good place to get a meal around here?”
The man was just about to answer when shots rang out in the street, along with loud cries of excitement.
“Things are looking up!” Johnny exclaimed and was out the door, gun drawn, before Scott had a chance to set his beer down.
Fleetingly, the idea of calling out for his brother to wait passed through Scott’s thoughts, but he knew better than to even try. It was in Johnny’s nature to act impulsively, and after two years Scott had learned to adapt quickly. So, instead, Scott downed his beer, gave a quick nod to the bartender, picked up Johnny’s hat, and with gun drawn, followed his brother out to the street.
The scene that greeted him was one of general pandemonium. People were ducking around the corner toward the saloon, while shots rang out from the street on Scott’s left.
“Hey!” Scott grabbed the first man who ran past him, “What’s going on?”
“They’ve robbed the bank! Two of the men got away, but we’ve got four others trapped inside. We think they’ve got hostages!” The man dashed in the saloon for safety.
Scott looked past the two buildings to the street on his left. The shots were coming from there. He ran to the corner, then crouching low to the ground, Scott scanned both sides of the now deserted intersection for any sign of his brother. When he did finally see him, Johnny was flattened against a doorway, jumping out at irregular intervals to fire at the bank. Scott noticed wryly that his brother was the closest person to the bank.
Scott took in the situation. The bank was located a block away, nestled stoically in a position so that it faced north up the street directly toward the commotion in the street. He watched ruefully as Johnny appeared just long enough to get off another shot.
“Oh, I suppose…” Scott mumbled to himself, as he dashed down the street, bullets flying past body parts that Scott dearly wanted to keep whole.
As he flung himself to the ground next to a building, Scott took a deep breath and surveyed the situation. It was obvious that the robbers had quite a dilemma on their hands. The question was how many innocent lives were going to be lost before they finally gave themselves up.
A puff of dirt exploded inches from Scott’s right foot. He quickly pulled it in closer to the wall. He was rather fond of that foot. He then shifted his position in order to get a better understanding of the mess they were now in. Having a brother who got his kicks out of being caught up in the middle of life and death situations wasn’t easy. It was a part of Johnny’s nature that Scott sometimes struggled to understand.
Scott cautiously rose to his feet. He could see Johnny half a block away. Scott was just ready to make the dash to get closer to his brother, when a flash of white from the bank door caught his eye. There was a general cease-fire, then Scott watched as a well-dressed man exited the building, hands raised, into the street.
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” The man exclaimed.
“It’s Jeffries, the banker!” Scott heard a man behind him shout.
Johnny, too, was watching as the well-dressed man exited the building. Johnny noticed his ashen face, trembling hands and panic-stricken voice.
“They’ve got hostages! Hostages!” the man gasped, pointing back towards the bank.
Johnny and Scott both sprinted to where the man had stopped, surrounded by a couple of the townsmen. Johnny quickly took note of the sheriff, a short, trim man who was gesturing for everyone to be quiet.
“Calm down, now. Calm down, everybody! Now Jeffries. Tell me exactly what happened.”
Jeffries took a deep breath, beads of perspiration shining across on his forehead. “Four men. There were four.” He paused and took another deep breath. “All four rushed in at once. There was no time to react. They had us all lay down while they emptied our pockets and took all the money in the cash drawer. Then they had me open the vault…” Jeffries paused for effect. “I-I didn’t want to. I wasn’t going to….but,” he stammered, “they were going to shoot me!”
“Okay! Okay!” the sheriff interjected with a calming grip on Jeffries’ shoulder. “You did right. We don’t want anybody hurt! Now, how many hostages do they have?”
Scott and Johnny watched as Jeffries glanced furtively back towards the bank, then wiped his sweaty brow. “Five. Mr. Harlin, Miss Owens, Mrs. Gibson and her daughter, and Stevens.”
At the mention of the last name, the brothers saw each of the townsmen glance quickly at the sheriff.
“Who’s Stevens?” Scott asked.
“My deputy,” the sheriff replied, grimly. Then he shook his head, and looked back at Jeffries. “How ‘bout a description. I’d like to know who we’re dealing with.”
“Well, there were the four, like I told you,” Jeffries stated. “One of them has been hit in the shoulder. Then there’s a young kid, only about 17, I suspect. Another big guy, name of Jake, I think. The leader, though.” Jeffries shook his head. “He has a foul temper. He’s really riled. I think he’ll shoot someone if we don’t let them out.”
“Did you catch his name?” the sheriff demanded.
Jeffries rubbed his forehead. “His name…his name is Reveles, I think.”
Scott noticed Johnny visibly stiffen at the mention of the name. “Reveles?” he asked quietly. “Are you sure?”
Jeffries turned a cool look of indifference on Johnny’s interruption. “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure. It was Reveles. He’s a tall fellow. Dark. Mexican, maybe.”
The sheriff also turned a suspicious look on Johnny. “Why? Do you know him?” he asked, his voice quietly tense.
Johnny glanced quickly at Scott, then back at the sheriff. “I’ve heard of him. I think he’s a bit north of where he usually hangs out, though.”
“Sam!” The sheriff turned to one of the men. “Run back to the jail, and bring me my packet of wanted posters.” After Sam left, the sheriff turned back to the group of men. “Maybe that will give us some extra information.”
Suddenly, a voice called from inside the bank. “Your time’s up, Mr. Jeffries!”
“What does he mean?” The sheriff looked at Jeffries.
“They said that unless we granted him and his men safe passage out of town, with the money, they were going to start shooting the hostages.”
“What?!” the sheriff exclaimed.
Scott stepped closer to Johnny and whispered, “You know this Reveles?”
Scott looked closely at his brother. “How well?”
Johnny kept his eyes averted. “Well enough.” He then turned abruptly, and stepped back in towards the group of men. “Why don’t you just let him have what he wants?”
The men all slowly turned to stare at Johnny.
“He wants to keep the hostages with him until he reaches safety,” Jeffries stated. “And one of them is my son’s fiancée!”
“I’m losing patience!” the voice from in the bank called again.
“We can’t let him take the ladies with him,” Jeffries stated firmly.
The sheriff waved Jeffries back, then walked a couple of steps away from the group towards the bank. “We want you to release all the hostages! Then you’ll be free to go!” he called.
The voice from inside laughed. “Oh, yeah, that’s a good one! I’m sure you’re gonna just let us ride out of here with all your money!” He laughed again.
“Sheriff!” Johnny quickly stepped up and put a hand on the sheriff’s arm before he could speak again. “Let me try to talk to him.”
The sheriff looked uncertainly at Johnny. “You? Why you?”
“I think I can help.”
“How?” The sheriff took Johnny’s hand off his arm. “I don’t think you can be any help here. This man is dangerous, and….”
There was a sudden blast of a gun, along with an onslaught of screaming from inside the bank. Everyone froze, then watched horrified as the bank door was yanked open, and a body was pushed out to sprawl, face down, into the dirt.
“Stevens,” someone breathed.
The sheriff’s face went ashen. Scott and Johnny noticed his hand go to his holster and grip his gun until his knuckles shown white.
“Sheriff!” Johnny interjected. “Please. I think I can talk to him. Let me try.”
“Sheriff, I think I can save the hostages!” Johnny paused, then looking down he added quietly, “I used to know the man.”
The sheriff tore his gaze from the body in the street to stare incredulously at Johnny. There was a sudden whispering among the men which caused Scott to move protectively next to his brother.
“You used to know this Reveles?” The sheriff’s words were thick with significance.
Scott watched as Johnny took a deep breath. “Yes, I think it’s the same man. I…it was a long time ago,” he finished quietly.
The sheriff looked hard at Johnny. “If you think you can talk to him, I’m willing to let you try. But make no mistake, I’m not willing to risk any of these men here to save your hide.” He nodded to the group of men around him. “We’re only interested in getting those hostages out.”
Johnny nodded in understanding.
“Now, wait!” Scott interjected.
Johnny turned with a resolved expression on his face.
“Now just a bloody minute!” Scott grabbed Johnny by the arm and pulled him to the side. “What are you planning here?”
he hissed. “Or have you forgotten we’re just passing through; that we are supposed to be back at Lancer day after tomorrow with these contracts?Why are you risking your life to help these people? They clearly don’t want your help, I might add. You don’t owe them anything!”
“Johnny,” Scott shook his head and lowered his voice. “Let’s not start that again. You can’t go fighting ghosts the rest of your life.”
Johnny locked eyes with his brother. “Maybe not, Scott, but this ghost I know personally.”
“Knew,” Scott corrected.
Johnny lowered his head, ignoring his brother’s remark. “I think I can help, Scott. I think he’ll listen to me.”
“And why should he listen to you, Johnny? Your old friends aren’t known for their lasting loyalties.”
Johnny glanced up and gave Scott a half smile. “That’s not a very nice thing to say.”
“Johnny!” Scott was exasperated. “This isn’t funny. You don’t really know what Reveles is like anymore.”
“No, I don’t. And he doesn’t know how much I’ve changed either.”
Scott shook his head. “Then your mind is made up?”
Johnny nodded. “My mind’s made up.” Abruptly he turned back towards the group of men. “Sheriff, call out and let Reveles know that someone’s comin’ to talk with him.” Then he turned back to Scott, and deftly unhooked his gunbelt. “Here.” He held it out to Scott.
“Shouldn’t you…?” Scott paused at Johnny’s raised eyebrow.
“Do you really think Reveles will let me walk in there with my gun?” Johnny paused and grinned. “You take real good care of it for me. I expect it back in perfect condition.”
Scott reluctantly accepted Johnny’s holster, then grinned despite himself. “Of course.” Then he gave his younger brother a more serious look. “Be careful, Brother.”
“Aren’t I always?”
Scott thought of a retort, but left it unsaid. Instead he watched as Johnny turned back toward the men.
“I told him.” The sheriff walked up to Johnny. “I said you were coming to discuss cooperation.”
Johnny nodded, then raising his hands, he walked out to the middle of the dusty street.
Scott watched as his brother paced slowly towards the bank, arms raised. He prayed that Johnny knew what he was doing and would be able to talk some sense into this Reveles character. But deep down, Scott had doubts. A man like Reveles could have changed a lot since Johnny knew him. Their past, whatever it was, may not hold enough meaning to the outlaw for him to listen to a former friend. And it was clear to Scott that their previous friendship was what Johnny was counting on. Scott sighed. As soon as Johnny was in that bank, he was going to have to work up a plan of rescue.
Johnny slowly walked the last remaining feet to the steps of the bank. He paused at the bottom of the two wooden steps, the sprawled form of the deputy lying face down in the dirt at his feet. He slowly bent over to check if the man was still breathing, when a warning shot resounded uncomfortably close to his right ear.
“Keep those hands up where we can see them!” a voice from inside the bank shouted.
Johnny straightened and raised his hands again. Now that he was closer to the bank, he was sure it was Reveles’ voice. It had been a number of years, of course, but he still felt certain it was the voice of his old mentor. The man who, right or wrong, took a young, impressionable boy and shaped him into a gunfighter.
Johnny took the last two steps up to the door, then paused as the bank door slowly swung open for him to enter. Standing in the bright sunlight, Johnny couldn’t make out anything in the darkened room. His hearing, however, was acutely tuned to pick up the minutest sound. Many times before, his ability to focus on one of his other senses had saved his life. A gunfighter who relied too heavily on just his sight rarely lasted long.
At first he could only discern the sound of frightened breathing coming to him from far back in the bank. That would be the hostages, he made a mental note. And there was obviously someone hiding behind the door on his left. That accounted for one man. Next Johnny picked up the slightest sound of a hand adjusting itself on the barrel of a gun. That sound came through the window on his right, though he could see no one. Logic dictated another man was guarding the window on the other side of the door on his left. Man number two and three. Where was number four? All these thoughts went through Johnny’s mind without his being conscious of it. A trained survival instinct honed after years of use. He took the two steps he needed in order to gain full entrance.
Johnny hadn’t even come to a stop before he heard Reveles exclaim, “Why, I’ll be damned! Jake, close the door!”
Blinking away the sunlight, Johnny’s eyes focused on Reveles as he came forwards to clap him on the back. “I told you, fellas! It’s Johnny Madrid!” Taking a step back, Reveles regarded Johnny with unconcealed delight. “I thought it looked like you, but I couldn’t be sure!”
“Oh, it’s me, alright, Reveles.” Johnny half-grinned, lowering his arms.
Reveles shook his head in disbelief. “I’ll be damned!” he repeated. “After all this time! Johnny Madrid!”
“Lancer,” Johnny stated quietly.
Reveles raised an eyebrow. “How’s that?”
“Lancer. I go by Lancer, now.”
“You don’t say.” Reveles gave a short laugh. “The man you swore to hate the rest of your life! How the hell did that happen?”
Johnny shrugged slightly. “It’s a long story.”
“No doubt,” Reveles remarked dryly. “I heard you’d given up the business, huh? So, it’s true, then?”
Johnny nodded. “After my ol’ man tracked me down.”
Reveles whistled low. “You, a Lancer. I have a hard time believin’ you’d talk to him, much less take his name. I know a time when you said you’d kill him if you ever set eyes on him.”
Johnny shrugged again, an uncomfortable feeling settling at the pit of his stomach, as he knew Reveles was right. It wasn’t that long ago that he’d just as soon have put lead in Murdoch Lancer as look at him. “I was wrong,” he stated simply. Then turning, he indicated the room. “What happened here, Reveles?”
Reveles shook his head disgustingly. “Those two young cucarachas we let join us a month ago. What a mistake!”
Reveles sighed. “They were holding the horses and panicked at the first hint of trouble. Can you believe that, Johnny? Damn fools actually took off with our horses, too!” Reveles rolled his eyes with a grimace. “They certainly don’t make them like you anymore, that’s for sure.”
Johnny watched as Reveles gazed around the room. Jake stood with his back against the door, his gun at ready. Johnny had noticed Jake hadn’t taken his eyes or his gun off him since he’d entered the room. The man with a shoulder wound was leaning against the wall to Johnny’s right, carefully concealed in the shadows, yet watching out the window. However, every few seconds, he would cast a glance in Reveles and Johnny’s direction. The youngest, a youth in his teens, stood guard at the window to Johnny’s left. He also seemed to be listening intently to the conversation. Reveles nodded towards the back wall, nearer where the hostages were kept tied up.
“Jake, Taggert, Sam, keep an eye out the window. Just ‘cus we have Mr. Lancer here to talk to us, doesn’t mean they’re past trying somethin’ stupid.”
Jake nodded quickly and turned back to look out the small window in the door, while Taggert and Sam focused their eyes down the street.
Reveles walked towards the back of the bank, motioning Johnny to follow. As he did, Johnny made a subconscious note of the layout of the bank. In his past life, knowing exactly where he was in relation to the rest of his surroundings was a professional necessity. The front door, guarded. The two windows on each side, also guarded. A large vault in the right back corner standing open, two teller windows in front of it. The left side of the room held a small, partially blocked-off office, probably Jeffries’. At the middle point, where the vault wall met the office, the hostages huddled together. The two women had obviously been crying. Mr. Hanlin didn’t look much better. The little girl, Johnny noticed wryly, seemed to be holding up better than the rest.
Reveles walked to the far-left corner, away from the hostages and the eavesdroppers, then turned to lean into the corner. He can watch the whole room from there, Johnny mentally noted.
“How long’s it been, Johnny?”
“About nine years, I guess.”
“Eight years, nine months, to be exact.” Reveles smiled. “Last time I saw you, you were off to try your hand as a hired gun for, oh, what’s that fella’s name. You know the one, bald, dark beard, scrubby bit of ranch outside of El Centro…”
“Fullerton,” Johnny supplied.
Reveles snapped his fingers. “Yes, that’s the one! Damned if I didn’t think you were going off half-cocked! Why the hell you’d even have wanted to side with him?” Reveles paused.
“You wanted me to sign up with Rogers.” Johnny half-smiled at the memory.
“That’s where the money was.” Reveles emphasized. “I spent two years showing you the ropes, teaching you all I knew, feeding you, clothing you, and the first chance you get, off you go and join a lost cause like that one!” Reveles shook his head.
“It wasn’t a lost cause,” Johnny replied quietly. “We beat back Roger’s men until Fullerton was able to find a lawyer who would take his case to court for him. And he won.”
“Maybe,” Reveles paused, “but how much did you walk away with?”
Johnny looked down, shrugging vaguely. “I don’t recall.”
“Thirty dollars? Twenty dollars?”
Reveles snorted. “Fifteen dollars, and Fullerton’s undying gratitude, I suppose?”
Johnny looked up and smiled sardonically. “Don’t forget the reputation it helped to build.”
Reveles nodded in concession. “You always did seem to pick the underdogs to champion. An interesting way to add to your reputation, though I’d still go with the hard money any day.” He paused thoughtfully. “It helps when the reputation starts to fade.” He paused again and looked Johnny over carefully. “You were like a son to me those two years.”
Johnny nodded, then chuckled. “Yeah, I was a snotty nosed little brat when I first ran into you.”
Reveles laughed out loud, drawing inquisitive looks from the others. “I figured I’d either hav’ta kill ya, or take ya under my wing.”
“You pretty near did kill me, and I have the scar to prove it,” Johnny retorted.
Reveles rolled his eyes. “That little ol’ thing? Just a flesh wound, but it was enough to get your attention.”
“Attention!” Johnny laughed. “It got my attention all right! When I lay out on the side of that road, playing possum, just waiting for an easy target to come along, I hadn’t figured on my mark being a gunfighter.”
“No, I suppose you didn’t!” Reveles mused reflectively. “I can still see that dirty, thin little face of yours, playing the poor, starving orphan. And I fell for it, too! When you suddenly grabbed my gun and tried to hold me up, I didn’t know whether to bury you or laugh.”
“Yeah, I guess I didn’t put as much fear in you as I’d hoped.” Johnny cocked his head, “but you sure put the fear in me when you grabbed that gun back, pointed it at me, and said–”
“Don’t go pointing that gun unless you plan to use it!” Reveles finished.
“And you did,” Johnny stated.
Reveles looked hard at Johnny. “But you learned your lesson.”
“And I’ve never forgotten it,” Johnny admitted, his thoughts going back to the young boy he had once been. A lifetime ago.
“And it was only a flesh wound.” Reveles emphasized.
“But it surprised the hell out of me and stung like the devil!” Johnny exclaimed wryly. “And it didn’t help that I thought you’d kill me the minute the fancy took you.” At Reveles’s quizzical look, Johnny continued. “Everyday, you’d say, ‘Well, Johnny, I guess you haven’t been too much trouble today. I’ll let you live, but I’ll probably have to kill you tomorrow.’”
Reveles laughed. “You didn’t actually believe that, did you?”
Johnny nodded and grinned. “I think by the third or fourth month, I’d decided you weren’t serious.” Johnny stopped and paused reflectively, then quietly added, his eyes searching his mentor’s face. “You were so strong, so sure of yourself, so much older than I was. Nobody dared cross you. To someone so young and powerless, watching the way people respected you, feared you, looked at you when you passed by-” Johnny faltered momentarily. “I wanted that, too.”
“And you followed fearlessly. I couldn’t have asked for a better pupil. Everything I told you, everything I showed you, you grabbed onto like gospel.”
“If I was going to do something, I was going to be the best,” Johnny remarked, thinking back on the hours he’d spent under Reveles’ tutelage, learning the perfect modifications to make to a standard revolver to turn it into a gunfighter’s weapon of choice. Then the hours and hours he’d spent dry-drawing, making his modified weapon an extension of his own hand, while Reveles watched, commented, corrected. Followed by endless hours of target practice, and always, Reveles there, watching him.
Johnny glanced up at his old mentor. “I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
Reveles shook his head. “Disappoint me? No, Johnny, you never disappointed me.”
Johnny cocked his head. “Even when I wouldn’t sign up with Rogers?”
Reveles gazed down at his hands. “Even then.” He looked up at the young man in front of him. The young man he had helped to mold. “I didn’t approve, but I understood.”
Reveles took a deep breath, and changed the subject. “So why are you here, Johnny? I doubt you came to talk over old times.” Reveles paused and glanced around the room. “Especially given my present accommodations.”
Johnny shook his head. “No, I didn’t.” He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “I came to stop this, Reveles. We can’t let you leave with the hostages.”
“We?” Reveles raised an eyebrow.
“I,” Johnny corrected with a nod toward the huddled man and women. “I can’t let you take those hostages, Reveles.”
“And why not?”
“You once said it yourself.”
Reveles raised the other eyebrow. “I did huh? And what piece of wisdom was that?”
Johnny paused before answering. “The only reliable thing about a desperate man–”
“Is that he is totally unreliable,” Reveles finished solemnly. He paused and studied Johnny. “And what makes you think I’m a desperate man?”
Johnny gazed at the hostages, then turned a penetrating look at Reveles. “I think it’s obvious. Hostages. A dead deputy. The Reveles I knew wouldn’t have let himself get into this sort of mess.”
A grin escaped from Reveles, but his eyes hardened. “You always were a good pupil.”
“You made me in your image,” Johnny stated flatly.
Reveles shifted his stance, and rubbed his chin. “Yes, Johnny, I’m a desperate man. And you know why? I’m almost 40 years old. 40! In our line of work, that’s unheard of. And I’m tired. I’m gettin’ too old for hiring out. I’m tired of being called out by some two-bit unknown trying to make a name for himself. I’m tired of cheap hotels that I call home for a day, maybe two. I’m tired of never going to bed without wond’ring what nightmares will come back to haunt me. I need that money, Johnny. I need the new life it’ll provide me.” He paused, then leaned slightly forwards, a cold expression settling across his face. “So, tell me, Johnny-boy, how do you propose to stop me?”
Uncrossing his arms, Johnny rested his right arm against the wall, his thumb tracing a crack in the wall. “I’m not sure, Reveles.” He gazed at the man who had once filled a void in his life. The man who was also responsible for who and what he had become. “I guess I had hoped I could reason with you.”
Reveles shook his head regretfully and sighed. “I’m sorry, Johnny. It’s no good. I’m a desperate man, now, remember?”
“Please, Reveles. The townspeople will let you leave. I give you my word on it.”
“No, Johnny,” Reveles answered sadly. “You know, and I know, without the hostages, there is no way I’m going to get out of here alive and with that money. There’s over ten thousand dollars here, and I aim to make sure I leave with it.” He slowly pulled out his gun and leveled it at Johnny. Johnny lifted his gaze from the barrel of the gun to stare into his mentor’s eyes. “I hate to do this, Madrid. But I can’t have you interfering with my plans.
Johnny slowly straightened, his eyes narrowing. “Don’t point that at me unless you plan to use it.” The low volume of his voice was a sharp contrast to the force of his enunciation.
Reveles didn’t smile. “I never do.” Then he gestured toward the front of the bank. “Now, you are going to get us our transportation.”
“And how’s that?”
“You’re going back out there and tell them we want eight horses. And I want them in five minutes, or another hostage will not live to see the sunset.”
Johnny studied Reveles’s face.
“And don’t ever forget, Johnny,” Reveles added tightly. “I am a desperate man, as you aptly pointed out.” He gestured toward the door again. “Now move!”
Johnny turned and walked slowly back to the door. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the hostages following his movements. His outward calm belied the speed in which his thoughts were flying through his head. He knew it was up to him to find a way to get the hostages out safely. He also knew Reveles well enough to know it wasn’t going to be easy. He knew Reveles’ tricks and Reveles knew his. But it had been a number of years, and things had changed, as evidenced by Reveles’ unsuccessful attempt at the robbery. The Reveles Johnny knew would have looked down on the common bank robber. No, Reveles would have disdained the thought of getting himself in such a predicament. Now, the honest business of a pistolero, a hired gun, that was a profession. Bank robbery was for hoodlums and valley rats.
Johnny paused in his thoughts. The hostages proved without a doubt that Reveles was as he had claimed, a desperate man. Johnny unhappily acknowledged this fact, but was not surprised. When he had heard that there was a possibility that it was Reveles who had held up the bank and taken hostages, Johnny knew at that point it was either a case of mistaken identity, or else the Reveles he knew had drastically changed. He now knew it was the latter.
At the door he stopped and listened carefully as Reveles explained his plan for Johnny to be allowed to step out into the street to deliver their message. Reveles reiterated once more that they needed eight horses, and that they would give the townspeople five minutes to get them before they shot one of the hostages. The deadline was important, Reveles explained to his men, to keep them ahead of the game, so that the Sheriff and his men didn’t have the time to come up with a plan to use against them.
Reveles then turned on Johnny, his gun raised. “Hands out,” Reveles commanded, his eyes never leaving Johnny’s face.
Johnny raised his arms out in front of him, while Reveles produced a length of rope. “Taggert, keep him covered,” he instructed. “Wrists together,” he directed Johnny.
Johnny drew his arms together, palm to palm.
“I think not.” Reveles allowed a hint of a smile to cross his face. “Remember, Johnny, I’ve taught you everything you know.”
Johnny tilted his head slightly, and grinned as he looked down at his wrists. “You’d have been disappointed if I hadn’t tried.”
“True.” Reveles roughly grabbed Johnny’s wrists, forcing them into a cross-wise pattern, then proceeded to weave the rope back and forth into an ‘X’. When he had finished, he looked up, “I don’t think you’ll get out of this, Madrid.”
Johnny studied Reveles’ handiwork a second before commenting, “I guess not.”
“When you walk out there, I’m going to be watching you like a hawk. If you so much as ask about the weather, I won’t hesitate to shoot you in the back.” Reveles stared straight into Johnny’s eyes. “Do you understand? You say just what I’ve told you to say, and nothing else. Then you walk slowly back in here.”
Johnny nodded curtly. “I understand completely.”
“Good.” Reveles turned back and motioned for the door to be opened.
Johnny slowly stepped out the door into the waning sunlight. How long had it been? It felt like ages, though it had probably been less than 15 minutes since he had walked through that door. Then an idea came to him. Not much of an idea, really, but he already felt better knowing he had some semblance of a plan.
Johnny hadn’t been gone more than two minutes when Scott heard someone running across the street from behind. It was Sam, and he was carrying a large packet of papers.
“Here’s the poster you wanted, Sheriff.” Sam hurried up to the sheriff, the large bundle of papers appearing ready to scatter to the ground.
“Careful, Sam.” The sheriff grabbed for the papers, while Scott quickly jumped in to help with the unsteady pile. The sheriff then nodded to a spot against the building. “You can put that half over there. Those are the older ones.” Then he mumbled. “Some day I’m going to clean through all of these.” Scott saw him shake his head at the unwelcome thought of wading through paperwork.
After Scott and Sam had finished laying their load on the boardwalk, Scott grabbed a couple of rocks and laid them on top. A breeze was picking up, he noted. No use adding escaping wanted posters to their problems. He smiled wryly and sighed as he stood up and walked back to where the sheriff was flipping through the pile of posters he held in his hands.
“Here it is.” He heard the sheriff exclaim as he walked up. “Joe Reveles.” He read. “Wanted for armed robbery and murder. Two thousand dollar price on his head. There’s a list of the more recent jobs he’s pulled. Banks, hold-ups, the usual.” The sheriff then paused thoughtfully and mumbled to himself. “That’s odd. I thought he was more along the line of a gunfighter.”
At the word ‘gunfighter,’ Scott’s heart skipped a beat. He knew it shouldn’t have come as any great shock, but it was still unsettling.
The sheriff looked down at the paper in his hand. “Says here he usually rides with two brothers by the name of Taggert. It looks like his last number of jobs have been larger and more desperate.” Then he glanced up at Scott. “And more deadly. It appears hostages have been killed a number of times.”
Scott’s gaze flicked down the street to the bank. The tenseness in his limbs beat a fast one to his stomach. He forced himself to relax and exhale slowly.
“It doesn’t look like a very good situation for your friend, does it?” remarked Sam dryly.
Scott shot him a dark look. “He’s my brother, and he’ll find a way to handle it.”
“Well, I hope so,” another man chimed in. “Because we’ve got three women and an innocent child in there that we don’t want to see hurt.”
Scott noticed the sheriff seemed lost in thought. Quietly he stood. Then with a perplexed look on his face, he turned and walked towards the pile of papers that lay against the building, and started flipping through them.
“And don’t forget all that money they’re planning to take with them,” Jeffries added, drawing Scott’s attention momentarily away from the sheriff.
Scott bit back a stinging retort and replied as calmly as he could. “I’m sure Johnny will find a way to save the hostages and protect your very important money, too.”
“Well, I’m not so sure about that, now,” the sheriff said as he walked back to the group, an old, yellowed wanted poster in his hand. “I used to be a sheriff near Presidio, Texas,” he said by way of explanation, then handed the poster to Scott.
Questioningly, Scott accepted it. When he looked down, he felt every bit of blood in his body sink to his toes. A numb, tingly feeling is all he felt as he stared straight into the likeness of his brother, Johnny. Johnny Madrid, Gunfighter, it stated. It was a personal reward notice put out by a man named Seward. One thousand dollar reward. It was about four years old. Scott noticed he hadn’t been breathing. Consciously he exhaled, then forced his gaze up, knowing the total lack of color in his face gave away the feelings he was trying to hide.
The sheriff was studying him hard. A lesser man would have squirmed under such an intense stare. In a voice barely above a whisper, the sheriff demanded, “Did I just let Johnny Madrid in that bank?”
There was a murmur in the crowd.
“What do you mean?” bellowed Jeffries, grabbing the wanted poster from Scott’s hands. “Johnny Madrid, gunfighter, wanted for murder. One thousand dollars reward. Use caution….” Jeffries looked back up. “What does this mean?!” he demanded more forcefully.
The sheriff ignored Jeffries’ outburst and concentrated on Scott. “I asked you a question. Did I just let Johnny Madrid walk into that bank?”
Scott took a deep breath, carefully matching his gaze to the sheriff’s. “Yes, but it’s not how you think.”
“Then tell me, Mr. Lancer, how is it?”
“He is my brother,” Scott reiterated. “And it is also true that he was Johnny Madrid, but now, he’s Johnny Lancer. He…”
“Oh, come now!” Sam cut in. “You expect us to believe he’s not in there helping them out?”
“He’s not like that anymore,” Scott shot back. “He’s no longer a—”
“A hired gun?” Another man cut in. “And a gunhawk can just change into a barn swallow.”
“Sheriff,” Scott turned, pleading. “Will you listen to me?”
The sheriff crossed his arms and regarded Scott with a disgusted look. “You haven’t given me a hell of a choice, Lancer,” he retorted.
Scott rubbed his forehead. He felt an enormous Johnny headache coming on. How many times had he tried to explain Johnny’s unique situation and his past life to someone when, in reality, Scott felt as confused about it as the person to whom he was trying to explain.
“He was Johnny Madrid,” he enunciated the past tense. “And he lived a life that walked a fine line on this side of the law.” Scott ignored a snort of protest. “But two years ago, our old man tracked him down, and Johnny found out he had another life waiting for him.”
“How touching.” Jeffries’ voice was filled with sarcasm. “Explain the wanted poster.”
“I—I can’t,” Scott replied haltingly.
“The poster is a personal bounty put out by a rancher down around Presidio. I’m not concerned with that,” the sheriff interjected. “I’m merely concerned with the fact that he is, or was, Johnny Madrid. A known gunfighter, who managed to make quite a name for himself down around Presidio about two years before I was there.”
“He isn’t a gunfighter anymore.” Scott implored. “Yes, he did know Reveles. And that’s why…” here he paused and glared at the group of men, “he’s now risking his life to save your hostages and money.”
“I just bet,” Jeffries growled.
“Yeah, he’s probably in there working on a scheme to help those outlaws out.”
“No!” Scott denied vehemently. “He’s never robbed a bank.”
“Not that you’re aware of anyway,” the sheriff added with a hint of sarcasm.
“I say we shoot him if we see him!” Sam joined in.
“Sheriff.” Scott turned to him for help.
“That’s enough!” He gave Scott one last hard look, then turned on the men. “There’ll be no shooting unless I say so. Now, we said we’d give him 15 minutes, so that’s what we’re going to give him.”
“Thanks, Sheriff.” Scott sighed deeply.
The sheriff barely acknowledged Scott’s words. “How long has it been?” he barked.
Jeffries grabbed his timepiece out of his pocket. “It’s been about 15 minutes already,” he exclaimed.
The sheriff turned to Scott and growled, “You’d better be right about your brother.”
Scott was opening his mouth to reply when one of the men yelled out, “There he is!”
Scott whipped around in time to see his brother slowly emerge from the bank, his arms held out in front of him. He was alone. He watched as Johnny carefully side stepped over the body of the dead deputy, then stopped at the bottom of the steps and waited.
“What’s he doing?” someone hissed.
Scott had already started forwards when he heard Johnny call out his name. “Scott! I need to talk to you. They won’t let me come any farther.”
Scott quickly undid his gun belt, and turned to the sheriff. “I’ll be right back. Here.” He handed it over. “Probably not acceptable attire.”
Turning back, Scott walked out to the street. The wind was picking up even more. The smell of rain was in the air. How many times he remembered the sudden rain storms after a big battle. Scott had once come upon his commander during one such rainstorm. Sheridan, short and stocky, and given to sudden poetical moments, was quietly watching the heavens pouring out her soul. “Lieutenant,” he had said, “they say that the rain washes everything clean.” He had paused to look at his junior officer. Then, sadly, he had turned to gaze back towards the battlefield and sighed. “It’s going to take a lot of rain before we’re through.”
Scott shook his head to drive the thoughts away. Why would he have to think of such things now?
He forced his gaze to remain calmly on Johnny. He couldn’t let his brother sense that there were other problems besides what he was already trying to deal with. Scott would just have to find a way to handle the men from the town. It was nothing compared to what Johnny was trying to deal with, he was sure.
Johnny stood unmoving, arms held outwards, watching as his brother walked down the dusty street. Every so often, a strong gust of wind blew through, picking up dirt and debris, chasing them across the street. When Scott was about four paces from Johnny, Reveles called out, “That’s far enough!”
Scott stopped short and looked questioningly at his brother. Anything said was obviously going to have to be said loud enough to be heard in the bank. Scott waited.
Johnny shifted his stance and threw his brother a reassuring half grin. “I’ve talked to Reveles.”
Scott nodded tentatively.
“He refuses to release any of the hostages, and he wants eight mounts within five minutes.”
Scott’s eyebrows went up in surprise. “Oh, really?”
Johnny nodded. “Yes, he does.”
“That doesn’t give us much time.” Scott ventured, wondering at the half smile still playing across Johnny’s features.
“Oh,” Johnny drawled, gazing up at the darkening sky. “I’d try to hurry with those mounts, if you could. Time’s a rather short commodity, Brother.” He shifted his gaze back to Scott, the hidden grin a contrast to his next words. “Reveles says if you’re so much as a second late, he’ll start shooting hostages, and,” Johnny added with a slight shrug, “I’m probably the most expendable.”
Scott couldn’t help showing a look of surprise, but he was still confused by Johnny’s seemingly amused expression. Then,
“Use Barranca, he’s already saddled, Scott. Charlemagne, too. That’s two. Get the townspeople to supply the other six, but quickly, okay?”
Barranca? Scott studied Johnny’s face hard. “I guess-”
“Nuff!” Reveles called out suddenly. “This shouldn’t take all day! You heard what we need, now git!”
Scott gave Johnny a reassuring smile, then nodded. “Take care of yourself.”
Johnny nodded back. “Likewise.”
“Move!” Reveles yelled. “Madrid! Get in here!”
Scott watched as Johnny took two slow paces backwards, then just before he turned to go up the steps, he barely mouthed the word, ‘Barranca.’
Scott, too, turned slowly and headed back down the street. His mind racing. Johnny obviously wanted him to give Reveles, Barranca. But why? Was he going with them? Was he supposed to hide something on his horse? Was…?” Scott almost stopped at the next thought. “Of course! Johnny had Barranca trained. He was going to use his horse to start a disturbance.
Scott was smiling when he stepped up onto the boardwalk where the men had congregated.
“What’d he say?” the sheriff immediately asked.
“As if we could trust him,” Jeffries interjected.
Scott sent the man a sour look. “If you bothered to notice, they had him tied up.”
“That could just be a ruse.” Jeffries crossed his arms indignantly.
Scott turned his attention back to the sheriff. “He says they want eight mounts in five minutes.”
“Five minutes!” The sheriff exclaimed. “That doesn’t give us much time!”
“That’s the idea, Sheriff.” Scott took off his hat and wiped his brow. “No time to prepare an offensive maneuver.”
“And if we don’t?” Sam demanded.
Scott coldly turned to the man. “They begin to shoot hostages.” He put his hat back on. “And adding up the time it took me to walk back here, and our little conversation now, I’d say we have less than four minutes left.”
“You!” The sheriff turned and pointed towards Sam. “Go down to the livery stable and get all the horses you can find!”
“You’ll need six,” Scott corrected. “You can use Johnny’s and mine. They’re saddled and ready.”
The sheriff nodded. “Six. Go quickly!”
After Sam and four other men had run down the street to the livery stable, Scott turned to the sheriff. “Our horses are just around the corner in front of the saloon.”
“Okay.” He nodded.
Scott turned to one of the other men who were still standing nearby. “There’s a palomino and a bay, both have an ‘L’ brand.”
The man shot the sheriff a look, who nodded his approval. After the man left, Scott lowered his voice. “Johnny’s got a plan.”
The sheriff rubbed his chin. “I see. And just what is this plan?”
“Well, I’m not sure,” Scott began. “But it involves Barranca.” At the sheriff’s dubious look, Scott quickly finished. “Barranca is Johnny’s horse. He’s trained.” The sheriff now looked at Scott with unconcealed amusement. “No, really, he is. He obeys when Johnny whistles.”
“Like a dog,” the sheriff chuckled.
“Well, something like that.” Scott then shook his head, “No, not really. I mean…” he paused and took a deep breath. “That isn’t important. What’s important is Johnny’s going to use Barranca to create a disturbance, and that is how we rescue the hostages.”
The sheriff crossed his arms and shook his head. “Of all things.” Tilting back his head, he gazed up at the darkening sky. “First, a bank robbery. Then a shoot-out. Next, I find out there are hostages, and I lose a good friend and deputy. Then, out of nowhere, I get someone willing to go in and negotiate with these outlaws. Soon after, I learn I just sent in a notorious gunfighter to talk to this outlaw, who, by the way, has been discovered to be a friend of his. Then, I find out this gunfighter wants to use his own horse in the getaway because it’s supposed to be a trick horse, and will thereby save the day.” The sheriff looked down at Scott. “Have I pretty well covered everything?”
Scott nodded uncomfortably.
“Just checking.” The sheriff uncrossed his arms and sighed to himself. “And it had started out as such a nice day, too.”
He was interrupted by the return of the man who had been sent to get Barranca and Charlemagne. Scott and the sheriff then glanced at the livery stable. With relief they noticed three of the men bringing four more horses. They waited as the men hurried up the street, the horse’s hooves kicking up puffs of dust behind them as they were led along.
“The other two will be here in just a second. These four were already in the barn. We had to get two more out back in the corral,” Sam explained.
The sheriff then nodded to Scott. “It’s your brother, your party.”
“Okay,” Scott gestured quickly, his heart quickening at the knowledge that now he could start to take action. How long had it been already? He had to work fast. “I’m taking the horses down to the bank. Then, I…”
“How do we know he’s not in on this, too?” Jeffries interrupted, his tone challenging. “Just ‘cus we don’t have a wanted poster on him…”
“Quiet!” The sheriff glared. “Another word out of you, and I’ll lock you up! Is that understood?”
Jeffries snorted his protest, but backed off.
Scott resumed, “I want a few of the men to go around the corner and come in through some of the back doors of the buildings along here. Get up on the roofs or the second story. Not too many, though. I don’t want to draw attention away from our little crowd here. If you find others in the buildings, get them to help. We need to use care. There’s still going to be hostages, but hopefully Johnny will be helping us out on that end.”
Johnny’s eyes flicked from Reveles’ face to the dark end of the gun barrel. Having re-entered the bank, he found Reveles waiting for him expectantly. “Well done, Madrid,” Reveles calmly said. “Now, go sit in the corner by the other hostages.”
Johnny didn’t move, but quietly studied Reveles. Then with a sad tilt of his head he asked, “Is that what I am, then?”
Reveles paused. The question hung in the air like the last notes of a funeral dirge. Johnny hadn’t moved. The dark blue eyes questioning. For a split second, Reveles regretted his decision – every decision – his life – all he’d done. The truth of it fell on him with the force of a cave-in. Then, the hopelessness of the situation reasserted itself, and Reveles roughly pushed Johnny towards the back of the bank. Dwelling on what might have been was going to do neither of them any good. Their lots were cast.
Johnny nodded a silent greeting to the other hostages as he settled himself against the wall. He felt their eyes watching him, their curiosity hanging uncomfortably in the air.
The man finally spoke up. “So, you’re Madrid, huh? I heard’a you.”
“Who hired you?” he asked.
Johnny painfully tried to stretch out his shoulders. His hands were already beginning to go numb. “I don’t hire out anymore.”
“Why not?” the little girl asked.
Johnny raised an eyebrow, totally taken off guard by her question, “What do you mean?”
She tilted her head to study him. “Don’t you want to be hired?”
“Shhh!” The girl’s mother interjected.
The little girl turned, puzzled, “But, Ma, you’re always saying that if more men got themselves a job instead of hanging around the saloons…”
“Jenny! It’s not the same thing!” the mother admonished. “He’s a…” her voice trailed off as she quickly glanced over at Johnny.
“Your mother’s right,” he intervened. “Everyone needs a job. But I didn’t much care for my old one so, I found a new one.” He smiled at the mother.
“Oh,” Jenny nodded with understanding. “I’m glad you found a new job you like.”
Johnny grinned widely, his eyes crinkling in the corners. “I am, too.”
“Quiet back there!” Reveles ordered. “Instead of discussing current job situations, I’d be watching the time, and yours is running out.”
Johnny closed his eyes and tilted his head back. For a few seconds he didn’t move, then he tiredly leaned forwards to rest his head on his pulled up knees. How did this all happen? When did the ghosts start to haunt him? He thought back to two years ago, when he’d first come to Lancer. He smiled as he thought of the one thousand dollars Murdoch had the Pinkerton man offer him if he would just make the trip to his father’s ranch in Northern California, and give the man an hour of his time. It was a good thing that the money was in the deal, or he’d never have bothered to make the trip. The intense hatred he had once felt for the man who was supposed to be his father had slowly been replaced by total apathy. Then when he’d arrived and found out the problems Murdoch was having, there was a moment when Johnny actually thought the real reason Murdoch had sent for him was for his reputation as a gunfighter. After all, it was what he did best, wasn’t it?
And that was why. That was why there were ghosts. He’d only been at Lancer a few short months when he’d realized Johnny Madrid was in danger of disappearing, becoming one of the ghosts, and he’d had a hard time dealing with that; had actually run away. But though Johnny Madrid had tried to escape, Johnny Lancer had wanted to stay. If it hadn’t been for Scott, the brother he’d never known he’d had, the brother who had come to mean so much to him, he would have never been able to return. Scott seemed to know the right words to reach past Johnny Madrid to find Johnny Lancer again.
But it was difficult. So difficult sometimes. Just when he thought he’d laid most of his ghosts to rest, they somehow always came back to haunt him. He should have expected something like this to happen. After a very tumultuous first year, things had slowly seemed to be settling down. He no longer felt as much uneasiness being around Murdoch, constantly wondering in the back of his mind what actually was in that report Murdoch had on him from the Pinkertons. It was quite extensive, he was sure, knowing how difficult it must have been for Murdoch to finally track him down. And Johnny, waiting, just waiting for Murdoch to grill him on it. But he hadn’t. Why not? Did he care, or didn’t it matter?
It mattered. Johnny shivered slightly, because the ghosts mattered. They always came back to haunt and destroy. He was never going to escape from them, especially from the ghost of Johnny Madrid.
Reveles quietly walked into the shadows that surrounded the teller counter. Leaning forward to rest his elbows on the counter, he put his head to his palms and rubbed his forehead.
Why Johnny? He wondered. Of all the people from his past to run into, why did it have to be Johnny? Johnny had been so young when Reveles had found him, or Johnny found Reveles, he mused. They had both been younger. Reveles was at the height of his abilities, commanding great fear and respect from both men and women. He lived the good life. He demanded a high fee and it was paid, no questions asked. And when fate had brought this young boy under his control, an impressionable, very needy, very confused, obviously angry young boy, what did Reveles do? He played god. He gave himself the ultimate compliment. He created a new Reveles. He set a very young Johnny on the same path that he had led. Even when they had parted a few years later in disagreement over how best to use his talents, Reveles had still felt a keen satisfaction whenever he heard of Johnny’s exploits.
Then two years ago, when he first heard Johnny had gotten himself killed down in Mexico in a pathetic little peasant revolt, Reveles had taken it hard. Even though they hadn’t seen each other in years, Reveles had felt a strong connection to Johnny. Then later, when he had learned Johnny hadn’t been killed but had turned away from his former life, Reveles’ original relief at hearing he was still alive was soon replaced by a bitterness that Johnny would turn his back on his old life. The life Reveles had chosen for him.
The news came at a bad time for Reveles. He was getting old, slowing down. The wear and tear of the punishing life of a gunfighter had taken its toll. In reality, Reveles had wanted to do the same thing, too. He had found himself wanting a new life, a different life—one without bloodshed, where light was allowed to shine in, one where darkness and dreams wouldn’t constantly haunt him. But it was a little too late for that now. It wasn’t so easy to walk away from such a notorious life as he had led for over 20 years. He had too many of his own ghosts coming back to haunt him.
Johnny’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the older Taggart brother exclaiming, “They’ve got them! He’s coming with all eight.”
While the four outlaws were momentarily distracted by the appearance of their means of escape, Johnny hurriedly took advantage of the situation. Keeping his head partially hidden in the shadows, he whispered to the hostages, “Be ready when you’re outside! I’m going to create a disturbance and you need to be prepared to get out of the way!”
Finished, he nonchalantly glanced up just in time to see Reveles turn and stride over to him.
“Well, it appears your luck hasn’t run out, Madrid. And with seconds to spare, I might add.”
Johnny shrugged indifferently.
“Get up!” Reveles kicked Johnny’s feet straight out. “All of you!”
Johnny and the rest of the hostages struggled to their feet. The numbness in his hands created by the cords made it difficult to move his arms at all. His hands were starting to swell, which was causing the cords to bite even deeper. It appeared Reveles hadn’t been as worried about the other hostages, though, as he hadn’t bothered to cross-tie anyone else. However…
“How about untying us, now?” he asked. “It’s going to be mighty hard for them to get up on a horse and stay there with their hands tied, especially the women.”
Reveles laughed. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Fine,” Johnny shrugged. “While you’re trying to keep the ladies on their horses, I’m sure the posse will eventually catch up.”
Reveles’ eyes narrowed. “Taggert! Loosen the ladies’ hands. Don’t untie the man or him.” He shoved his gun against Johnny’s chest. “Especially not him.”
“You mean you won’t even let me wave goodbye?” Johnny asked sardonically. “Or do you plan on taking me with you?”
Reveles took a step closer. “You’re the last hostage I’d want to take with me.”
“Why, Reveles,” A ghost of a smile played across Johnny’s face, “After all we’ve been to each other.”
“You’d make a hell of a lot of trouble, and you and I both know it.”
Johnny looked up at the taller man, a hooded expression appearing on his face. “You’re so right, Reveles.” Then he paused before adding in a threatening undertone, “Don’t take the hostages.”
“I have to.” Reveles turned quickly and motioned for the hostages to walk to the door. “When we get outside, each hostage is going to be a protection for one of us. Don’t anyone think of running, because I won’t hesitate to drop you.” He turned and nodded at Johnny, “You go out first, Madrid, and take the horses. Keep them up close to the bank. The hostages will come out one at a time with one of us following. When I get out, Madrid, I want you to back off.” He gave a curt smile. “Not that I don’t trust you.”
Johnny bowed a sarcastic reply.
“Get the hostages up first, and keep them towards the outside,” Reveles directed. “Keep low to your horses. We need to move fast and not give the men out there any time to prepare an ambush.” Reveles then turned to Johnny, “You go on out, and hold those horses. Tell the man out there that I want him outta sight in 30 seconds, or he’s dead.” He paused, then pointed his gun at Johnny’s face, “And you’d better not try anything, Madrid, or I’ll make sure you’re the first to go.”
Johnny’s gaze didn’t waver. Reveles lowered his voice, “I mean it, Johnny.”
Johnny didn’t move a muscle for a few seconds, then he lowered his eyes and replied softly, “I know you do.”
“Go!” The terse command felt like a blow. Johnny avoided Reveles’ gaze as he walked to the door. Taggert carefully opened it, keeping himself safely in the shadows.
Once again, Johnny walked out into the daylight, but he noticed the sky had darkened considerably; unfortunately so had his thoughts.
Scott was standing, impatiently holding the reins of the getaway horses. Johnny noticed Barranca and Charlemagne were among them. He made a mental note to buy Scott the next round at the saloon, if he got out of this alive.
Scott nodded a silent greeting, his face displaying no emotions, but his eyes searching for some hint of instruction.
“Give me the reins,” Johnny commanded.
Scott hesitated, “I don’t-”
“The reins, Scott, now!” The tone in his voice left Scott no recourse but to do as instructed. Noting Johnny’s trussed wrists, he carefully held out the reins. Johnny awkwardly managed to get a hold of them.
Once he had a sure grip, he hissed, “You’ve got 30 seconds to get out of here. Now, go!”
Scott gave one last look at Johnny, still hoping for some hint of direction, then turned and walked quickly back up the street.
Johnny breathed easier when he noted Scott rounding the corner of the last building. His brother was safe, at least for the moment. Now to save the hostages, and hopefully himself.
He turned slightly as the door behind him opened and the first hostage walked out.
Scott couldn’t help but stop to regroup his thoughts after he had rounded the corner of the building. Even as the sheriff walked up to him, Scott leaned over and rested his forearm against the side of the building. This whole fiasco was getting more difficult by the minute.
“So….” the sheriff prompted.
Scott took one more deep breath to shake away the mental anxieties he had weighing on him, then turned to focus on the sheriff. “It’s underway,” he stated flatly. “I saw Johnny, but with his hands tied, we won’t be able to count on as much help from him as I would have liked.”
The sheriff nodded solemnly. “From what I’ve heard, Johnny Madrid with a gun would have made quite a formidable ally.”
A disquieting feeling came over Scott. Suddenly he felt a need to give Johnny Lancer his due. “I’m sure my bother will find a way to help us all he can.”
“Of course,” the sheriff acknowledged. Then, changing the subject, he quickly nodded up toward the rooftops. “A number of men have managed to position themselves in the buildings along this side of the street. We haven’t the time to do much more. If you go up these stairs, here,” he motioned towards the outside staircase Scott was standing near, “it’ll take you to the second floor. From there you can go to the roof and cross as close as the second building to the end.”
A quick smile of gratitude flashed across Scott’s face. “Thank you,” he said, as he leaned over to pick up his gun. As he did, he noticed Johnny’s holster and revolver also laying along side the building. He quickly stooped to pick them up. Why? He wasn’t sure. But Johnny had entrusted them to him.
With a quick backward nod to the sheriff, Scott was up the steps and on his way into the building.
Johnny stepped back out of the way as the four outlaws each took the reins of two of the horses. He knew when the shooting started that he would be in a vulnerable position, and he needed to find someplace to use as cover. Seemingly passive, he watched as Reveles helped the mother and child up onto a horse. He noted with satisfaction that Reveles also held the reins to Barranca. Reveles’s appreciation of good horseflesh was one thing that hadn’t changed over the years.
Johnny took one casual step back, only to have Reveles level his gun at him. “Don’t move, Madrid. I want you where I can see you until we’ve ridden outta here.”
In reply, Johnny planted his feet firmly where he stood, and looked down at his tied wrists. Mentally, he was pacing off the distance to the goods wagon that was down the street on his left in front of the mercantile store. Not much for cover, Johnny thought wryly, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Carefully and calmly, he measured each breath, waiting for his moment to come. He knew each step must be meticulously planned in order to take full advantage of the disruption Barranca would provide.
Nonchalantly, Johnny glanced back up. He noted that each of the hostages had been put up on their horse, and the outlaws were now mounting. His time to act was now.
Scott had reached the second building to the end, just to the east of the outlaws and hostages. It was a millinery store, the proprietor of which must have cleared out when the original bank holdup shooting had begun. When he had come down through the roof steps, he had discovered no one. Though in his fast dash across the rooftops, he had nodded a quick greeting to three men already positioned to bring down the outlaws if Johnny could get the hostages out of harm’s way.
Kneeling, Scott carefully and slowly opened the door of the shop a crack. The hostages were mounting, all toward the outside of the small tightly arranged group. He couldn’t see any of the outlaws, other than catching a glimpse of legs from under the horses’ bellies. On the far side, and standing just a step from the group, stood Johnny, staring down at his hands. He was so motionless, Scott noticed; he could have been a statue. He didn’t even seem to be breathing. Inwardly, Scott marveled at his brother’s total calm.
Scott quickly looked around. Though Johnny may have seemed detached to the casual observer, Scott knew his brother well enough to recognize that the outward calm hid a very active core. He knew he needed to help Johnny out with the diversion he had planned. It was also obvious to Scott that his brother was going to have to act soon. The hostages were all mounted and the outlaws were going to be ready to leave in a matter of seconds. And Johnny, standing where he was, was certainly going to draw the outlaws’ ire once their plans started going awry.
Still, Johnny stood motionless. Scott frantically searched for some way to help. He knew he was down to heartbeat seconds. What could he use?
The pan. That tin shelling pan! Scott’s darting eyes screeched to a halt. There it lay, balanced on an old chair, about two yards (–no, make that two and a half yards he mentally corrected) down the boardwalk from where Scott hid behind the shop door. If he could only throw something at it, make it crash to the wooden walkway. But what could he throw? He desperately swept his eyes over the room. A hat was hardly going to produce the results he hoped for. It had to be heavy, something else that was metal, perhaps… He suddenly paused, his eyes drawn down to the extra holster and gun in his hand. Johnny’s gun. Of course. The weight. The metal. The gun’s chamber was emptied and the revolver in his hand in two breaths.
As Scott looked back out through the crack, he saw Johnny slowly raise his head. This was it. His time to act was now.
Scott pulled the door open with his left hand as he tossed the revolver in the air. He watched as it glided through the air, and slammed against the shelling pan with an enormous crash.
Johnny took in a breath and whistled two high piercing notes. “Barranca!” he yelled.
Reveles turned a pair of murderous eyes toward Johnny, his right hand swinging around to point his gun in his direction. At the same time he heard a crash behind him. Just as he was getting a shot off, he felt his mount suddenly rise up beneath him, catching him totally off guard.
Scott watched as Barranca bucked, sending his rider toppling off his back, the bullet that was meant for Johnny flying harmlessly into the air.
At the same time, the diversion he had created had achieved the desired effect of drawing the fire of a couple of the outlaws, their bullets peppering the front of the next building over from where Scott was hiding.
Scott grinned as Barranca’s fervor was elevated by Johnny, who called his name and whistled a second time. The hostages in the meantime, forewarned by Johnny, had jumped off their horses and ducked for cover. The outlaws, however, were caught off guard, their mounts shying and skittering uncontrollably with Barranca bucking around among them.
The hidden men along the rooftops added to the melee by beginning to shoot down into the outlaws. As the hostages ran for cover, the outlaws tried to fire back at the concealed men, at the same time trying to get off their horses and use them as shields.
Scott quickly yanked his door open and grabbed one of the female hostages as she ran by, shoving her down onto the floor as bullets blasted against the door. He hurriedly flattened himself against the wall, then cautiously peered out.
Horses and outlaws were dashing around in confusion. Seeing one outlaw suddenly caught out in the open, Scott fired. He was just going down when Scott noticed Johnny running right towards the middle of the madness.
Johnny had just turned to run for cover when he heard a high pitched scream. A quick glance backward brought his retreat to a sudden halt. Jenny, screaming and hysterical, stood right in the middle of the confusion. Bullets were beginning to rain down onto the outlaws, the outlaws desperately trying to fight back and take cover. Before he’d had a chance to think through his actions, Johnny, head lowered in determination, ran towards Jenny.
He was a yard away from the little girl when he saw Reveles glaring at him out of the corner of his eye, his gun raised to shoot. Too late to change directions, Johnny dove forwards, throwing his body protectively onto the little girl, just as the shot from Reveles’s gun whistled through the air.
Johnny’s heart beat twice before he felt a sticky wetness slowly trickle along his back. The ensuing pain came quickly on its heels.
Scott’s cry of warning was entirely muffled by the noise and confusion out in the street. The general hysteria and screaming of both men and animal had drowned out his voice. He had seen Reveles shoot Johnny, just as Johnny had thrown himself onto Jenny, protecting her with his own body. Unable to see how badly Johnny was hurt, Scott was overwhelmed with an urgency to end the stand-off. With vengeance his only thought, Scott aimed for Reveles, then swore as he saw that Reveles was dragging a female hostage along with him. He watched helplessly as Reveles threw the lady up on the saddle, then quickly jumped behind and galloped off.
With Reveles gone, Scott turned his attention back to the front of the bank. Barranca was settling down, and most of the horses had scattered. The bodies of Johnny and two of the outlaws lay prone in the dirt. The last outlaw had escaped back into the bank, but with Reveles gone, and no means of escape, Scott could see the end was near.
A sudden noise behind Scott made him turn about with a start, his gun leveled. The eyes of the female hostage he had just recently rescued changed from surprise to amusement as she noticed the embarrassment in Scott’s face.
“I’m – I’m sorry.” Scott quickly lowered his revolver. “I forgot you were here.”
“It’s been a trying time for everyone,” she acknowledged graciously, the corners of her mouth turning up into a disarming smile.
Scott pushed himself to a standing position. “Here, let me help you,” he reached down to help the lady to her feet. Seeing her bound wrists, he quickly took out his boot knife and cut away the cord.
Relieved, the young lady shook her hands free and smiled again. “Thank you, Mr. -”
“Lancer. But you may call me Scott,” Scott replied. “And I’m sorry to leave, but I have a brother out there who needs me. There’s only one outlaw left, so I don’t think this will take long, but keep away from the windows. No need giving him something to shoot at.”
The lady nodded in understanding, then watched as Scott quickly turned back to the door. Keeping low, he glanced out. An occasional shot came from the bank, only to be answered by a volley from the men hiding along the street. If he could make it out the door and along the front of the adjoining building, then across the street that ran in front of the bank, he’d be able to take cover up next to the building and work his way to the bank.
After one last quick check to insure that his revolver was fully loaded, Scott flung open the door and dashed outside, keeping as low to the ground as possible. Two half-hearted shots rang out in his direction, but his determination, or the shooter’s lack-of, allowed him to reach his goal without incident.
Despite the relative ease in which Scott reached the front of the buildings, he still paused to catch his breath. His thoughts now narrowed to his brother’s situation, as his eyes sought out the form of Johnny still lying unprotected in the middle of the street, his back now covered in blood. Closing his eyes, Scott leaned back against the building. A fear he had not often felt before constricting his chest. He wanted to call out to Johnny, to get some response, but he knew he didn’t dare.
Opening his eyes, he spied the sheriff quickly nodding to him from the door of the store that he had just left. The townsmen also felt the end was near and were closing in.
“You! In the bank!” Scott called out. “You’ll never get away! Give up now, and nobody else need be killed!”
His answer was a volley of random shots, one of which hit the dirt precariously close to Johnny’s head; Scott was mad now.
“You’re not going to escape and you know it! We know it!” Scott added. “So, if you want to meet certain death in the next few minutes, continue with this suicide attempt!”
Scott looked back toward the sheriff and saw him signal that he was ready.
“You’d better think fast! ‘Cus we’re coming in, in ten seconds, and you haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of making it!”
With one last glance in Johnny’s direction, Scott dashed along the front of the building, firing two shots through the window before he threw himself against the bank door. Tumbling onto the floor, he quickly assumed a crouched position, gun leveled at a wide-eyed young man, his right forearm wrapped and bleeding, a pool of blood also spreading under his left leg. For one instant, Scott felt he was looking at a younger Johnny, and the original hate-filled adrenaline he’d entered the bank with melted away.
“Don’t shoot!” The young man threw his gun at Scott’s feet.
“I won’t,” Scott whispered hoarsely. His mouth suddenly felt dry, but the look on the young outlaw’s face clearly showed that he did not believe a word of what Scott had said. “I won’t,” Scott repeated and lowered his gun, just as the sheriff and two men came dashing through the door, their guns drawn.
Scott slowly stood up and nodded sadly at the sheriff. “He’s all yours. I need to go to Johnny.” Brushing past the sheriff, Scott quickly put the depressing atmosphere behind him.
Johnny slowly and carefully pushed himself to a kneeling position, allowing Jenny to crawl out from under him. Johnny watched with relief as she turned dark green eyes on him.
“You were right, Johnny. We tricked them.”
His grin quickly vanished as he heard Scott call out his name. Turning painfully, Johnny watched Scott clear the bank steps in one stride, and coming to stand beside him in the next. Concern clearly in his expression, Scott reached out an arm to steady his brother.
“I’m all right, Scott,” Johnny reassured weakly.
Scott raised an eyebrow. “I think not!” he retorted.
Jenny chimed in, “Johnny said we had to play a game.”
Scott looked from Johnny to Jenny. “Oh, really? And what game was that?”
“Possum,” Jenny grinned, “and I played it really good, didn’t I?”
Johnny nodded at the little upturned face and grinned, “You sure did.” Then, shakily he pushed himself to his feet, Scott quickly grabbing an arm to offer support. “No use wasting a perfectly good bullet on a corpse.” Johnny explained dryly, his attempt at gallows humor not impressing his brother. Then he paused and held out his wrists, “Get these off me.”
Slightly shocked, Scott noticed the cords that bound Johnny’s wrists were red from his blood. The hands were swollen and bruised looking. Quickly, Scott reached for his boot knife, and cut off the cords that were biting into his brother’s wrists.
“Where’s Reveles?” Johnny asked as the cords fell away. Scott noticed Johnny trying to flex his fingers, in an attempt to revive some feeling into his numb hands.
Scott shook his head. “We really need to get you to the doctor.”
Johnny’s face darkened. “You’re changing the subject, Scott. Where’s Reveles?”
“I’ll take care of it, Johnny, but right now we need— ”
“The hell you will!” Looking back towards the bank, Johnny saw the sheriff emerging, his prisoner being helped out by two of the townsmen. “Sheriff, where’s Reveles?!” Johnny called, awkwardly pushing away the hand Scott put out to steady him.
The sheriff nodded for the men to continue on without him. Then he walked down the steps towards Johnny and Scott, taking in both Johnny’s hard expression and the troubled look he was getting from Scott. “He got away. And,” He glanced at Jenny and lowered his voice, “he took her mom.”
“And he got away with the money!” Jeffries pushed his way into the group. “Well, Madrid, looks like your plan didn’t work!”
“Damn!” Johnny quickly shifted back to his brother. “I need my gun, Scott.”
“What?! You’re in no condition -”
“No, Scott, I’m in no mood for arguing!” Johnny interrupted.
“Sheriff!” Scott turned for help. “You tell him he can’t go chasing after Reveles. We’ll get a posse together and take care of it from here.”
The sheriff shook his head with amusement. “If you can’t talk any sense into him, you expect he’d listen to me?”
Scott gave the sheriff a withering look before turning to glare at his brother. “Johnny, you need to see the doctor. Your back…”
“It looks worse than it is.”
“It looks damn bad!”
“It’s just a crease, really,” Johnny stated firmly. “My hands feel worse.”
“Oh, that makes me feel a lot better about letting you go out after Reveles,” Scott retorted sarcastically.
“Scott, either get me my gun, or give me yours.”
Scott looked at his brother. The determined set of his jaw told Scott there would be no reasoning with him.
“No,” he replied firmly, matching his brother’s determination with his own stubbornness.
“Then I’ll just have to find another one.” Johnny turned abruptly and walked a couple of paces to the sprawled body of one of the outlaws. Painfully, he leaned over and unbelted the holster, then retrieved the fallen man’s revolver. Scott walked up to him as Johnny was fumbling with the belt buckle.
“Oh, this is really smart. You can’t even get it buckled.”
The look Johnny flashed showed he wasn’t amused by his brother’s comment.
“Come on, Johnny. Be reasonable. You can’t do this,” Scott pleaded. “You don’t need to do this. You’ve done all you can. Let the Sheriff take over from here.”
Ignoring his older brother, Johnny methodically refilled the chambers of the revolver, the numbness in his fingers making it an awkward process. Finished, he turned and whistled, “Barranca!” he yelled.
As the golden palomino pranced to Johnny’s side, Scott attempted once more to stop his brother. Grabbing onto his arm, he implored, “Don’t be so stubborn, Johnny! There’s no reason to do this!”
Johnny turned suddenly, his blue eyes darkening with scenes from a past Scott could never understand. “Yes, I do, Scott. Now let me go.”
He quickly mounted, and galloped out of town before Scott could reply.
Johnny lay against Barranca’s neck and allowed his horse to gallop freely. His hands felt stiff on the reins, and throbbed to a beat that seemed to match the one coming from his back. A flesh wound it might be, but with every movement he felt his dried on shirt pulling and tugging at the wound. A sudden desire to laugh at his folly, at his stupidity in seeking revenge against the man who had helped shape his past, who had given him the ghost of Johnny Madrid to live with, overwhelmed him. He could barely move his hands, and the wound along his back made it difficult to even breathe, much less move. Scott was right. He was making no sense. He was acting bull-headed. He was acting like – Murdoch.
Johnny didn’t have any time to reflect on the thought, for as he rounded a bend in the road, he saw Reveles about a quarter of a mile ahead of him. He must have had a slow going trying to drag a reluctant hostage along, for suddenly Reveles reined to a halt and yanked Jenny’s mother off the saddle. Johnny slowed Barranca down to a walk.
He had perhaps gone ten yards when Reveles called out, “That’s far enough, Madrid. Unless you want I should shoot this pretty lady right now.”
Johnny pulled Barranca to an immediate halt. “Let her go!” he called back.
Reveles snorted, “You’ve got a lot to learn, yet, Madrid.”
Johnny calmly dismounted and signaled for Barranca to move out of the way. “The name is Lancer,” Johnny corrected coolly. “You still have what you really came for, the money. Now, I suggest you take it and let the lady go.”
A smile widened across Reveles’ face. “You forget, Madrid,” he drawled out, “I’m a desperate man.”
“No,” Johnny shook his head. “I didn’t forget. But what you don’t realize, is I’m a desperate man, too.”
Reveles’ face broke into a wide grin. “Well said, Madrid.”
“It’s Lancer, Reveles.”
“No, it’s still Madrid.” Reveles’ eyes narrowed dangerously then flicked to focus behind Johnny. In the distance, a horse could be heard galloping hard. Johnny had no need to turn, he knew who was coming up behind him.
Scott had quickly recovered Charlemagne and was ready to take off after his brother when the sheriff grabbed hold of his reins. “Wait until I get a posse together.”
“I can’t,” Scott replied, hurriedly mounting. “I don’t have time to wait,” he paused a beat, “neither does Johnny.”
Hastily he yanked his horse around and spurred him out of town, leaving the sheriff staring after him, shaking his head at the obstinacy of the two brothers. They sure were alike, he thought.
Scott pushed his horse hard, and as he rounded a bend in the road, he came upon the very scene that he had dreaded seeing. Johnny, his manner rigid, immovable, didn’t turn around at his approach.
As Scott drew his horse up, Johnny coldly enunciated each word just loud enough for Scott to hear. “Leave now, Scott.”
The words brought Scott to a standstill. He knew it was Johnny standing in front of him, the bloodied shirt crusted to his back, his swollen hand hovering just inches from his right hip. But the voice wasn’t the Johnny he now knew. It was the voice of the Johnny he’d met that first day when they’d both shown up at Lancer. Before they really became brothers. Cold and impersonal. Scott opened his mouth to say something, but words escaped him. Quickly he took in the stances of the men in front of him, and the knowledge that neither would now back down.
There must be a way to stop this, he thought as he dismounted. “John-”
“Leave!” hissed Johnny.
Scott watched as Reveles pushed the lady off to the side. She stumbled a couple steps, then collapsed in fear, as the events of the past hours suddenly drained away all her strength.
“Now!” The one word out of Johnny was low and guttural, like an animal before it’s attacked. Scott reluctantly backed off a few yards, but remained close by, trying in some desperate way to offer some support.
“So, that’s the new brother you discovered you had. You’re one big happy family now, right, Madrid?” Reveles laughed. “Or have you not told him everything? I bet he doesn’t know who you really are.” Reveles laughed again. “Johnny Madrid’s brother. Ha! Maybe I’ll take care of him after I take care of you!”
“Leave him out of this!” Johnny replied hotly. “This is just between you and me!”
“Oh, no, Madrid, it’s much more than that.” The voice was soft and deadly.
Johnny felt the anger rise in him, and fought to keep it down. Reveles was clearly baiting him. Trying to get him to react rashly. “Lancer.” He stated more calmly than he felt. “It’s Lancer.”
Johnny felt Reveles’ eyes bore deeply into him, reaching down to his soul. “No,” a ghost of a smile haunted his face, “it’s still Madrid.”
Johnny shook his head slowly. “You’re wrong. I don’t make my living like that anymore. I don’t hire out, I don’t do-” Johnny paused.
“—this.” Reveles finished with a slight nod of his head, indicating the scene. “You’ll always be a gunfighter, a hired murderer. You can play the rancher, the obedient son, even the little brother, just as a child would play at pretend, but you’ll always know in your soul who you really are.”
Scott saw Johnny wince. The old outlaw’s words had obviously hit a chord. Scott wanted desperately to yell out that it wasn’t true. That his brother had changed. That he wasn’t at all the man he used to be, but deep down, Scott knew he wasn’t completely correct, either. Scott suddenly remembered a scene that had happened just a week or two earlier at supper one evening. Murdoch and Scott were discussing the causes of the Civil War. Scott believed strongly in the position of the North and couldn’t comprehend how the people from the Southern states could possibly have thought they could be in the right, when Scott had noticed that Johnny hadn’t said a word but had just been quietly listening. Wondering if perhaps all this time he’d had a Southern sympathizer for a brother, Scott had demanded his opinion. Johnny had lowered his head and stared at his plate a few seconds before answering, “Perhaps it’s not so black and white, Scott.”
“What?” Scott had demanded.
Johnny had pushed back his chair. “What I mean, Brother, is you have a tendency to view everything as black and white, good and evil. Maybe this isn’t. Maybe it’s gray.” Then he had gotten up from his chair and walked out, leaving his brother with a puzzled expression. Only now, Scott realized, he understood. Johnny was gray, too; both black and white, good and evil. Each side trying desperately to co-exist together.
Scott turned his attention to Reveles: the man with the key to Johnny’s past and his unhappiness.
“Well, Madrid. Are you going to get this show on the road, or shall I?” Reveles laughed at Johnny’s hesitation. “But you can’t, can you? Not if you’re a Lancer!” He spat out the last word.
Johnny took in a slow, deep breath and willed himself to do the one job he knew so well. The job Reveles had so thoroughly taught him. Johnny’s gaze momentarily dropped to Reveles’ gun hand and back to his eyes. Too many young, unseasoned gunfighters met an early end by concentrating too strongly on the gun hand. It was a mistake Reveles had corrected in him immediately. The hand could lie, but the eyes, never. The eyes always gave it away. With Johnny’s second breath, he stopped time, he stopped all the pain that had been draining away his strength, and he stopped every distraction around himself, save one.
A panic Johnny had never known before gripped him as he realized his brother was standing nearby, not only witnessing the resurrection of Johnny Madrid, but in danger of meeting death if Johnny should fail to take Reveles down. The hostage, the money, the pain, he could wipe those from his thoughts, but his brother….
Johnny caught the look in Reveles’ eyes a split second too late. To the naked eye, one could never have told whom had drawn first, but Johnny knew. In that immeasurable moment when his thoughts had been distracted, he had lost what edge he’d had in youth and speed. He knew he’d been beat and was going down. As the revolver found his hand and together they blurred into one movement, the only thought Johnny had left was the hope that he would be able to take Reveles out, before he’d also had a chance to fire on Scott.
Scott never could have related what had transpired to suddenly cause both men to break into action. All he was aware of was in the flash of an instant both men had their guns drawn and were firing, both shots echoing at the same time.
A cry escaped Scott’s lips as he saw his brother drop to his knees. “Johnny!” Scott was unaware of when he made the decision to run to his brother, though vaguely he was aware that Reveles had fallen backwards, also hit.
Reaching his side, Scott was disturbed by Johnny’s refusal to look up at him. Kneeling back on his feet, arms hanging limply to his side, Johnny took no notice of his brother’s appearance. All life seemed to have drained away, yet he appeared unharmed. It was then Scott noticed a redness slowly spreading down Johnny’s left arm.
“Johnny, you’ve been hit.” Scott said, kneeling down beside his brother.
Johnny still knelt, unmoving, eyes closed. “Johnny—” Scott attempted once more, “Johnny, you won.”
Johnny slowly shook his head, “No, Scott, I didn’t.”
Confused, Scott reached out a hand to support his brother. As he did, Johnny gazed up at him, a dullness in his eyes Scott found disquieting.
“He had me, Scott,” Johnny stated simply, his voice barely audible.
Scott looked over to the body of Reveles lying flat on his back.
“Here, let me help you,” Scott said as he put his other hand out. He expected Johnny to refuse his help, but instead it was accepted without comment.
Scott carefully helped his brother to a standing position facing him, Johnny’s gun falling unheeded to the ground. He noticed his brother once again kept his eyes averted, hiding. Searching for the right words, Scott kept his hands on his brother’s arms, not wanting to let go, feeling that Johnny needed to know he was there, even if he wouldn’t look at him, the exertion of the ordeal seeming to have transformed his brother from a calculating gunfighter to a shamed young man.
“Johnny, you did—-”
“He had me,” Johnny flatly repeated the statement. “Why?” He looked up at his brother, his eyes suddenly old and pained. “I need to go to him.”
Scott took a step back as Johnny pulled away from him. He watched as Johnny walked slowly to the fallen form of Reveles, his mentor, his friend, his demon, his ghost…
Johnny was kneeling down beside Reveles as Scott silently walked up behind him. The wound was obviously fatal, and Scott was surprised to even hear irregular, shallow breathing.
“Reveles,” Johnny whispered.
The eyes opened, slowly, searching, yet unfocused.
“Reveles,” Johnny whispered again, and put a swollen hand out to add strength to the failing life.
The eyes blinked weakly, then slowly came to rest on Johnny’s face.
“Johnny,” the voice was faint, choking.
“Why?” Johnny’s voice cracked, “you had me.”
“You won.” Reveles coughed the words.
“No, you missed on purpose,” Johnny forced.
A weak hint of a smile fleetingly formed, then faded. “I left you something to remember me by, though.” Reveles gasped each word. The effect causing him obvious pain.
“Why didn’t you take me down?”
Scott could sense Johnny’s dismay, his pain and confusion. Kneeling down beside him, he put a hand on his shoulder, but his brother didn’t seem to be aware that he was there. His eyes never left Reveles.
“I’m so tired of the past.” Reveles closed his eyes momentarily, drawing on his last reserves of strength. “The ghosts. They come back to haunt us. It’s too late for me, but I hope we’ve destroyed one of yours.”
Scott felt his brother suck in his breath. Closing his eyes, Johnny lowered his head in bitterness.
Then Reveles painfully turned his gaze to Scott. “Take care of Johnny,” he gasped, a sudden fierceness in his eyes focusing all his remaining strength into one phrase. “Love him.”
Scott was acutely aware that Johnny flinched beside him, opening his eyes at Reveles’ words.
There was a stir, then Reveles’ gaze left Scott’s face to focus above him. “I think…,” the words turned painful, his breath raspy, “I think—it’s——raining.”
Scott saw the eyes go blank as the first few drops from the heavens fell upon Reveles’ face.
The trip back to town had been an uncomfortable one. The posse showed up just as the rain started to come down with a vengeance. Scott was relieved, since the sheriff saw to the care of Reveles’ body and had one of the men help Jenny’s mother back to town. This left Scott to help his brother back to town as well.
Now Scott leaned his chair back against a wall in the doctor’s office as the town doctor saw to Johnny’s wounds in the other room. He closed his eyes and shook his head. What was a couple more scars to Johnny Madrid, or Johnny Lancer. Scott sighed. Whose scars were they anyway?
Scott thought over the past day’s events. It seemed like it had been another lifetime ago. And it was. A lot had changed. He’d learned a lot about his brother, maybe too much. He sighed again and rubbed his tired eyes. How was this all going to affect his relationship with Johnny? He knew Johnny was uncomfortable about the life he had lived; he didn’t go out of his way to hide whom he had been, but he didn’t openly wear the mantle of his past either.
Scott also thought back on the sheriff, who had soon followed Scott and Johnny to the doctor’s office, inquiring on how Johnny was doing. Scott had told him he was with the doctor, but he was sure he would be fine, when the sheriff had said there was the matter of the bounty. Scott had gone cold, assuming the sheriff was referring to Johnny’s bounty, but the sheriff quickly assured Scott that he was talking about Reveles. Would Johnny want the money that was coming to him? Scott had firmly told the sheriff that Johnny wouldn’t want the money, to give it to Jenny and her mother, then had hastened the sheriff out of the office. It was not a subject he wanted Johnny to have to deal with.
Scott paused in his thoughts. But the bounty on Johnny? Did his brother know? Should he bring it up? Did Murdoch know?
Murdoch seemed to avoid facing Johnny’s past. He kept his thoughts about it hidden away, like he did with that report from the Pinkertons. Hidden away in a drawer, never to be taken out and examined in the light of day.
Scott closed his eyes again and tilted his head back. But who was he to criticize? He was really no better than Murdoch when it came to accepting Johnny’s past. The few times he’d casually brought up the past to Johnny, Johnny had immediately clamped down, so Scott had backed off. It was easier than pursuing an uncomfortable subject. And Johnny wasn’t going to readily offer up his soul to public scrutiny; no one would. It was something that would take time, effort – and a great deal of tact.
Scott couldn’t help smiling. Maybe it was good that this had happened. Maybe it would bring out some of these issues. He was more certain than ever that the past was something that continued to haunt his brother, even though over the course of the two years he’d been at Lancer, Johnny had done his best to conform and adjust, to be accepted as son and brother. But Murdoch and Scott, by tiptoeing around the issues, were not doing Johnny or themselves any good. Johnny’s ghosts were haunting them all.
There was a noise from the backroom. Scott leaned his chair forwards to smack resoundingly on the hard wood floor. When the door opened, Scott was relieved to see Johnny walk through, his color improved and the barest hint of a smile in the corners of his eyes. His wrists and arm were bandaged, and there was a wrap around his upper back and chest.
Scott quickly stood and looked at the doctor as he walked in behind Johnny.
“Well, your brother’s damn lucky to be alive. But, by the look of some of his scars,” the doctor shook his head, “I guess it’s not the first time.”
Scott saw Johnny drop his gaze. The turn the conversation was taking making him clearly uncomfortable.
“He’s lucky that bullet just grazed his upper back muscle. A little further in, and it’d have cut clear through the spine.”
Scott saw from the pained expression on Johnny’s face that the time to intervene had come. “Thanks, Doctor,” he said, grabbing the man by the arm, herding him away from Johnny. He reached into his chest pocket, pulled out some bills, and quickly counted out enough to more than cover their expenses. “We really appreciate all your help.” He smiled, the doctor obviously impressed by the fee he had received.
Then the doctor leaned forwards, and lowered his voice. “Is he..?” He shot a quick glance at Johnny, who was leaning against a table, sorely in need of a warm bed and a long sleep. “Is he really Johnny Madrid?”
Scott sucked in his breath and forced a smile. “Yes, yes he was,” he replied, trying not to sound curt.
As he turned to go to his brother, the doctor added, “Change those bandages often, and watch for infection.” Then he pulled a small bottle of liquid from his pocket. “And here, here’s something for the pain. He’s already had a small dosage. Wouldn’t hurt to have a bit again before bed.”
Scott nodded his thanks and took the bottle, then he put out a hand to help his brother. Johnny smiled wryly and accepted the help. He obviously had had some of that medicine, Scott chuckled to himself. The doctor must have hid it in a shot of tequila though, as Johnny had an aversion to medicine.
Slowly they left the doctor’s office and crossed the street. The rain had stopped, the streets having changed from dirty and dusty to dirty and muddy. Carefully, they picked their way across to the hotel where Scott had gotten them a room earlier.
Scott accepted the key from the desk clerk, who handed it to him immediately. As they walked up the steps to the room, Scott could feel the eyes of the clerk watching them. It was going to be good to get out of this town.
The room was the first one on the right. Opening the door, he helped Johnny in and onto the bed. As his brother lay down, a soft groan escaped his lips. He looked like he needed to sleep for days. It sounded like a really good idea to Scott, too.
Tiredly, Scott unbuckled his gun belt, set it on the side table, and sat down at the edge of the bed. He had just pulled off his boots, when he heard a movement from Johnny’s side of the room. Glancing up, he caught his brother watching him.
“How are you doing? Need anything?” Scott asked, standing up.
Johnny started to use his left arm, thought better of it, then used his right arm to push himself part way up. “I’ve been meaning to ask you…”
“What?” Scott took another step, bringing himself next to his brother’s bed.
Scott’s mouth opened in surprise. “Your what?”
Johnny cocked his head to the side. “My gun, my holster, I gave them to you to hold for me.”
“Well, I…,” Scott faltered, turned and walked to the dresser at the far side of the room. He picked up a couple objects, then turned and brought them back to his brother.
“Here’s your holster,” Scott said as he set it carefully on the bed.
Johnny looked from Scott down to the holster, and back up again. He raised his eyebrows, “And…?”
Scott sheepishly reached under his jacket and pulled out Johnny’s gun, or what used to be Johnny’s gun. It had clearly not survived the attack of the Killer Outlaws. There were three recognizable pieces. This was one gun that had obviously seen better days.
Johnny looked at it a moment, then raised doubtful eyes to his brother. “What’s that?”
“It can’t be,” Johnny replied positively. “My gun was in one piece.”
“Yeah, well, I needed something to create a disturbance.”
“And you used my gun?”
“Well, it was handy…” Scott hesitated.
“My gun? Not your gun? My gun?” Johnny shook his head, then sighed, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Remind me never to give you Barranca to look after for me, okay?” Then he closed his eyes and lay back down.
Scott watched his brother settle into sleep, then glanced at the pieces of the gun he held in his hand. The gun. Johnny’s gun. Part of the ghosts. He couldn’t help but grin as a thought occurred to him. It belonged in the past with the rest of the trash.
Scott looked back down at his younger brother, the brother Reveles had given him to protect, to help, … to love. Scott sighed. It wasn’t always going to be easy.
Leaning over, Scott carefully touched Johnny’s shoulder and whispered, “Sleep well tonight, brother. We’ll face your ghosts together, later.”
Turning, he walked quietly to his bed, unaware that his brother was watching him, a look of silent gratitude in his eyes. Peacefully, Johnny closed his eyes, and fell asleep. No ghosts would haunt his dreams that night.
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