Word Count – 2,177
Thanks to Sandy, Patty, Diana and Beth for the Beta Read
Lancer is owned by whoever owns it and more is the pity that is not me.
The black-haired boy sat at the back corner table of the Silver Bucket Saloon. He’d been nursing a bottle of tequila all evening waving off the company of the saloon’s ladies and the errant cowboy alike. He was musing or brooding, the boy wasn’t entirely sure, nor did he entirely care.
He had a fight with his father. Another fight. Murdoch Lancer called the tune and this one was named irresponsible John. It irked him. He wasn’t irresponsible. He’d been responsible since he was ten years old. It was just that he hadn’t cared about the conversation Murdoch and Scott were having. Despite what Murdoch Lancer thought, he did not have to have an opinion on every single thing that they wanted to talk about, and Lord have mercy if Boston and the ol’ Man could talk a body to death about any number of things.
“Hell, I get in trouble when I don’t say a damn thing. Ain’t no winning …” Johnny sighed and sipped his tequila. He looked over at the cowboys playing poker. Old Charlie Wingate had staggered over and joined them. He waved in Johnny’s direction and Johnny lifted his bottle in return then took another swig. He wasn’t in the mood to join them. The noise they made cut through him like a ragged knife, but still and all, they had a right to make their noise and have their fun. It wasn’t their fault that he had the bad luck to be Murdoch Lancer’s disappointment.
Johnny figured he ought to just take his bottle, maybe another one too, and go hole up at one of the line shacks. Get away from people. He’d had enough of people and the idea of people.
“Lancer’s the largest ranch in this part of California. You must have a decent concern for our neighbors, Johnny. We have a duty to ensure not just our survival, but theirs.” Murdoch had gone on and on; and the longer he went on the louder he got. It jarred a man down to his soul. All he’d wanted was a little peace and quiet. He’s wrestled Murdoch’s stupid cows all day, the last thing he wanted was to come home and wrestle the bear that was Murdoch Lancer.
“Dammit,” Johnny growled at no one and took another swallow from his bottle. He looked up as the batwing doors swung open, half expecting his brother and a little disappointed that it wasn’t the tall blonde from Boston. Scott, with his soft-spoken ways, could calm a body down. Not that he was sure he wanted to be calmed down. Ol’ Scott had been about as aggravating as the ol’ Man, just not as loud, when he started on about fiscal responsibility. “What the hell is a fiscal anyway?” Johnny asked no one. He sure didn’t know, and he damn sure didn’t care.
The sound of glass breaking caused Johnny to look up. At the bar, the newcomer stood looming over poor old Charlie Wingate. The old fix-it man had staggered from the poker table to the bar and stumbled into the gruff stranger knocking the man’s glass from his hand, onto his shirt and the glass shattering on the floor.
The stranger seized Charlie by the collar, shoved him into the bar and grabbed the bottle sitting on the scarred top moving his hand to break the bottle on old Charlie’s head. A soft voice stopped him cold.
“Mister, ya better sit that bottle down and step away.”
The belligerent man turned toward the voice and laughed when he saw it belonged to the blue-eyed boy sitting at the corner table. He turned back menacingly toward Charlie. “Old drunk’s gonna learn to watch where he’s going when I’m done with him.”
The chair scraped across the floor. “A stupid jackass is gonna learn to step away when I tell him to,” Madrid replied. “If he wants to stay healthy.”
The man turned back to face the boy as the bartender grabbed Charlie by the arm pulling him around the edge of the bar. “Boy, you need to stay outta my business or I’ll take a belt to you like your daddy oughta. So, you just get on home boy while ya can, or you can use that gun hanging on your hip and draw.”
Chairs scraped and men scurried making a clear path between the two men.
Johnny smiled slowly at the man, but there was no mirth in his eyes, just cold, hard shards of ice. “Mister, I don’t like having to kill a man, but I’ll do it if you make me. You looking to die tonight?”
The bartender looked between the gunfighter and the stranger. Usually, Johnny Lancer tried to steer clear of trouble, but there was no doubt that this was not one of those occasions. “You damn fool! Don’t you know that’s Johnny Madrid you’re bracing?” he shouted at the stranger.
The man stepped back, turned toward the bartender and then back toward the boy. “Madrid? The gunfighter?”
Johnny stood rock still except for the grin that grew across his face. “Uhm … yep.”
The stranger dropped the bottle that was still clutched in his left hand. It clattered and crashed on the sawdust covered floor. His right hand he held straight out from his side. “I ain’t gonna draw on no gunfighter.”
Johnny smiled. His blue eyes twinkled. “Why don’t you just hand your gunbelt, nice and slow, to Ray there,” he nodded toward the bartender. He waited as the man complied and then took off his own gunbelt, walked over and handed it over to Ray.
“Hold on to these,” he said to the bartender and then turned on the stranger landing a strong haymaker punch to the man’s jaw. The stranger went splaying backwards into the poker table which tilted and spilled the man onto the floor.
“Mister, you wanna try and see if you’re as good a man as my daddy? Skinning my knuckles on your jawbone’s gonna do me good right now.”
The stranger pushed up and charged the younger man grabbing Johnny around the waist and taking him into the bar. Johnny connected a punch to the side of the stranger’s head. One of the poker players grabbed a chair and broke it on the strangers back and the saloon erupted into a Saturday night melee.
Gabe Stillman was enjoying the quiet of Sunday morning. Standing from his chair, he stretched and then moved to the pot-bellied stove in the corner of his office. Taking his blue tin cup, he poured a mug of steaming coffee and watched the tendrils of smoke rise. He closed his eyes and took a sip, savoring the warm chicory flavored brew. He turned at the sound of horses galloping in. Sighing, he headed toward the window, sitting his coffee on his desk as he passed by.
Looking out the window, he sighed again. The quiet was over. He stepped back as the door to his office flew open.
“Gabe! Where’s my boy?”
“Good morning, Murdoch, Scott,” he said to the two men as they barged into his office. “Would you like some coffee?”
“I would like my son!”
“Well, Murdoch …”
“Walt told us about a commotion at the saloon and that Johnny was protecting Charlie Wingate. I would think that defense of others would have kept Johnny from being arrested,” Scott said trying to stay calm but worry over his younger brother in his voice.
“Yes, Johnny was protecting Charlie, but he did throw the first punch.”
“So, the other man was arrested too?” Murdoch shot.
“No, what happened was –”
“That doesn’t seem reasonable to me, Sheriff,” Scott started. That calm voice getting louder.
“Now Scott, listen –”
“Listen to what? I want my boy and I want him now,” Murdoch demanded.
The wooden door leading to the cells opened and a black-haired head peeped around the door. “You sure do make a lot of noise, Murdoch,” Johnny said softly.
All eyes fell on the boy as he walked out of the cell area stretching his arms over his head. Without asking, he moved to the pot-bellied stove, grabbed a mug, and poured a cup of steaming coffee. He blew on it a couple of times before taking a sip. Closing his eyes, he let out a contented sigh before turning to face his family and the beleaguered Sheriff. “Why are y’all yelling at Gabe?”
“Why aren’t you in a cell?” Scott asked his younger brother.
“I won’t arrested. Gabe just let me stay here last night on account of me not feeling like riding back to the ranch.”
Gabe grinned. “That’s what I have been trying to tell you both. I didn’t arrest anyone. Johnny offered to have Lancer pay for the restitution and Ray was fine with that. Ray didn’t want to press charges against Johnny anyway.”
Murdoch rounded on his son. “Oh, so you said that Lancer would pay for your scrapping in the saloon! Well, no sir!”
Johnny sipped his coffee slowly, using the time it took the hot liquid to slide down his throat to remain calm. He had thought about this over the long night. He knew his father would go into his skinflint Scotsman habits, as his brother called it. “Yes sir, we will,” Johnny replied softly. A smile crossed his lips as he noticed Scott maneuver himself away from their father.
“Oh, will we?” Murdoch challenged.
Johnny looked up, his blue eyes locking with his father’s. He straightened. “Well, I’ll tell ya Murdoch, it’s like this. This is the ranch helping out the local community like you and Scott was goin’ on about yesterday. By me getting in that fight, now Ray’s gotta buy more liquor which has to come in on the freight shipments. So that’s more folks making more money. Then new furniture’s gotta be made or, at least, what can’t be repaired.”
“And Charlie Wingate can probably fix most of it,” Gabe piped in as he sidled over beside Scott.
Johnny held his hand out toward Gabe waving his hand. “See. Ol’ Charlie’s a good fix-it man. He needs the job.”
Scott nodded, “He does have a point, Sir.”
“You stay out of this!” Murdoch growled.
Undeterred, Scott continued. “It also appears that my little brother was listening to our conversation after all.”
Murdoch turned the glare he was giving his youngest toward his eldest and back again. “I am a partner in the ranch, Murdoch. I can say what goes for the ranch just like you and Scott.”
“Not until you’re twenty-one!” Murdoch exploded. His finger pointing straight at his youngest son.
Scott reached over and took Gabe’s coffee mug from his hands and took a swallow before handing it back. The combatants were between him and the coffee pot.
Gabe looked at the Eastern bred young man and down at his coffee then asked, “Do they go on like this often?”
Scott nodded, “Oh yes.”
“Twenty-one, oh pbbt,” Johnny’s exasperation becoming evident. “I’m old enough to fight Pardee, I’m old enough to do your work, and I’m old enough to make decisions that count. Hell, I been doing it since I was ten. Ain’t gonna wait a year just to be legal.”
Murdoch’s ire was dissipating as he studied the boy … his boy … in front of him. His boy who had grown up too fast. His Johnny who appeared relatively uninjured, except for a few bruises marring his cheek and chin.
Johnny stood there, hands on his hips, and looked up at his father with his most disarming grin and waited.
“Fine,” Murdoch capitulated. “This time. Do it again, young man, and try me!”
Johnny nodded as he wisely took another sip of his coffee. Maybe talking softly, but firmly, was the way with his father. Maybe. Sitting the cup down, he walked back into the cell area and grabbed his hat and gunbelt. As he walked back out, he heard Murdoch inviting Gabe to join them at the café for breakfast.
“That’s a good idea. I got another one for ya too, Murdoch. Spanish Wells needs a hotel. My choices last night were the jail or the livery. I mean there are the upstairs rooms at the saloon too but, well, Gabe had them off-limits for me last night. I think we oughta invest in a hotel. That’d be more of that … what’d ya call it Scott? Economic development.”
Johnny plopped his hat on his head and headed out the door. The three older men just shook their heads as the cocky black-haired boy sauntered across the street and called behind him, “Come on! I’m starving! Buying breakfast at the café, that’s also putting money into the town and food in my stomach. Come on, we’re wasting daylight.”
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