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Trick Shooter by d.b. brisbin

Word Count 2,182

Johnny had been quiet at dinner, and now, he had taken his after dinner drink and left the great room to go outside onto the veranda. 

Murdoch could think of nothing that had gone wrong between the two of them, and he had already asked Scott if he and Johnny were okay, and he indicated that they were good. 

Johnny had finished work a little early for once and seemed okay when they were in the great room having a drink before dinner. 

So, what was it that had happened in that short time span?  What had sent his youngest brooding in the dark?  Johnny had looked at the newspaper before dinner, after he had pointed out that he was finished with it and was about to throw it out.

Murdoch walked over and picked up the newspaper from the week before.  He skimmed through the headlines and then saw the article about Dodge City, Kansas.  The headline read, “One Man Single-handedly Destroys Town, Dies in Shoot-Out with U. S. Marshall.”

That had to be what had caught Johnny’s attention.  He skimmed through the article again.  Through a sad set of circumstances, a young man, pretty close to Johnny’s age, Bob Johnson, had lost his father and brother due to some power hungry rancher outside of Dodge City who had his own town. 

The boy ended up being called out by the man’s son, killing him, and then killed all of the rancher’s hired men, was accused of killing the rancher, although he denied it, and in his and his girlfriend’s attempt to leave town, she was killed by two local men.  Then he and the Marshall were involved in a showdown, and the Marshall killed the boy. 

The story was scripted just like many of the stories in the Pinkerton report he had locked in his bottom desk drawer about Johnny.  Only the names were different. 

Was this someone Johnny knew, or was it just the similarities?  Maybe it wasn’t even this, but as a father, he knew it was his job to console and guide his son, a task made extremely difficult by their tenuous relationship. 

Truthfully, he always dreaded having to deal with Johnny’s problems.  They were always so complicated and emotional.  Johnny was like his mother in temperament.  Oh, he got a good dose of Scot stubbornness, but he had the fiery temper of his mother, which when provoked, was uncontrollable and burned everything and everyone in its path. 

He downed his drink and poured himself a double.  Scott looked up from his chair, empathy in his eyes.  Teresa, darning some socks, also looked up and gave him a supportive smile.  They knew how difficult it was for him to try to deal with Johnny, but he could feel their support for his attempt. 

Feeling less than adequate to deal with the matter, he took his drink and made his way outside.  There was Johnny standing there pressed against the wall, staring at something on the ground, maybe even his boots.  The boy oozed cocky confidence most of the time, but moments like now, when his son had his head down like that, it tore his heart out.  

It was a sight he saw mostly when he was alone with his son.  It was clear Johnny wasn’t confident around him, and he was uncomfortable.  He would give anything for that not to be the case.  Maybe in time.  .  .  .  .

It was hard to believe that all of that had happened to Bob.  Jesus!  He remembered the first time he met him, at the medicine show when Bob worked as a trick shooter.  He snorted at the idea.  When Bob had turned around to take his money, he’d had to look in the mirror and then back again.  He thought it was a circus trick.  They looked like twins, except for their style of dress. 

Bob had been far more conservative and kept his hair cut nice and tidy.  He laughed again. Bob had never stopped teasing him about his hair, or his clothes for that matter.  They had become instant friends, as far as people in their lifestyle could be friends.  

They had a good chat and after the show, Bob came into the saloon and he and Johnny played some poker. In fact, the second night they played was one of the largest stakes games that the saloon had hosted in quite some time.  There had been a bunch of wealthy cattle ranchers in town, ready to play and had plenty of money to lose.  Johnny had been waiting there to meet one of the ranchers who wanted to hire him. 

During the daytime, before the medicine show would open, he and Bob went outside of town to practice.  He helped Bob with the speed of his draw, while Bob helped him with his spins.  They had really had a good time.  So good, in fact, that one night, Bob wanted to spend it with a certain lady he had met but was supposed to be at work. 

He had convinced Johnny to dress up in his clothes and take his place.  It was hysterical, as no one even noticed, not even the boy who set up the targets for him.  The next night, the lady Bob had been with mistook him for Bob!

They ran into each other about a year later. Bob had quit the medicine show and was hiring out his gun.  They worked a couple of range wars together and then Bob decided to go back to live with his Pappy and brother.

To think that all that bad had happened to Bob, was like happening to him.  Funny, when he had noted the date of his death in the paper, Johnny remembered that day.  It had been the tenth anniversary of his mother’s death.  He remembered that he had felt especially unsettled and sad.  At one point, he had had to sit down under a tree and take a break from the fence line he was putting up, and he had become short of breath.


Johnny looked up at Murdoch with a half-hearted smile, a little nervous twist to his body. 


“Son, are you all right.”

“Yeah, sure.  Just needed some air.” 

Johnny didn’t look him in the eye, a sure sign that he wasn’t okay.

“I know something’s wrong.  Is it me?”

“No, no ol’ man, we’re good.  Aren’t we?”

“Well, I think so, but I know something’s bothering you.”

Johnny gave a light-hearted, soft snort.  “Just somethin’ I read in the paper.”

“Come sit down and tell me about it.”  He sat down on the bench and patted the spot next to him for Johnny.

After a deep breath and a shrug, Johnny eased over and sat down next to him, close enough that their shoulders almost touched.  He leaned back against the wall and angled himself a little closer to Johnny so that when he leaned back, their shoulders did touch.  It warmed him when Johnny didn’t move away but allowed the slight contact.

“Did you read the story about all the killings in Dodge City?”

“I did.  Pretty horrible set of circumstances for everyone involved.”

“Well, I knew Bob Johnson.  He was about the same age as me.  We rode together for a little while.  He was a good person.  We were a lot alike.”

Murdoch waited.  Something he was learning to do.  Wait and be rewarded. 

“Bob and me grew up kinda the same.  Only he never knew either of his real parents.  His ‘Pappy’ as he called him, well, he picked him up off a trash dump when he was a baby, raised him with his own boy, and they were like brothers.

He was good with a gun, almost as fast as me.  He was a hell of a shot.  When I first met him, he was workin’ as a trick shooter for the medicine show.  He helped me with my spins.”


Johnny pulled his Colt and, in an uncharacteristic display, spun the revolver in fascinating turns and spins on one finger in the trigger guard.  It revealed just how balanced the weapon was.  It was something that Murdoch had seen flashy gunfighters do, but never Johnny. 

Without looking, Johnny stopped the revolver and re-holstered it.

“We were in the same town together for a week the first time I met him.  Hangin’ out in the saloon playin’ cards, practicin’ together, whenever he wasn’t workin’.  After that, I didn’t see him for a while.  When I finally saw him again, he had quit the medicine show and was driftin’ around.  He was thinking about going back to live with his Pappy and brother who were doin’ some drovin’ and other stuff. 

We worked a couple of range wars together, and after that, he decided he definitely wanted to go back with them.   I only saw him once after that, with his father and brother.  They were happy, just the three of them.  All real nice fellas.  For all of that to happen, well, I know he could outdraw that Marshall.  I think he just gave up.”

“Gave up?”

“Yeah, I mean, his only family and his girl gone like that, all in just a few days.  I mean, it said that the Marshall said that he went for his gun and he was forced to shoot and kill him.”

“Bob just wasn’t the kind to try and shoot it out with a Marshall.  He lived on the edge, but he stayed mostly on the right side of the law.  If he killed anybody, then they deserved killin’.

“Murdoch, I know that Marshall, too.  He locked me up one time.  He’s tough, but I guess he’s fair enough.  I’ve also seen him in a shoot out.  He’s pretty fast, but he ain’t like me and Bob.  Besides, he’s older now than when I knew him, and I guarantee you he’s slowed down.

“The worst part is, we coulda been brothers.  I mean, you didn’t have any other kids with Mexican women, did ya?”

Murdoch was shocked.  “No, Johnny.  Why would you ask such a thing?”

“We looked just alike.  We coulda been twins, Murdoch.  Except we didn’t dress the same and he liked his hair a lot shorter.  I even worked for him one night in the medicine show so he could, well, so he could be off.  Nobody even knew.

“But the worst is, the day that he died, it was the same day that Momma died.  I felt sick all day that day, and I didn’t know why.  I just thought maybe it was because of that, but I ain’t never felt that bad before.  I had to sit down cause I couldn’t breathe.  Now it just makes me wonder if it had somethin’ to do with him and me lookin’ so much alike that there was somethin’ more between us. 

“I don’t mean to be so down. It’s just hard when everybody I’ve ever cared about or been any kinda friends with dies.”

“I’m sorry, Johnny.  I truly am.  But if what you are saying is true, that he gave up, then he made a choice. He didn’t have to die.”

“I understand what your tryin’ ta say, but I’d do the same thing now if it was me.  Don’t ya see, we were almost identical, he had his father and brother, and I have you and Scott.  If something happened to you two, I don’t think I’d wanna go on.”

Speechless at the statement, Murdoch took a good long pull on his drink, grateful that he had indeed poured a double.  He was happy to receive the little gift his son had just given him in his expression of feelings, but at the same time, it bothered him to hear his son talk about giving up on his own life.

“Johnny, son.  I appreciate what you’re saying, but I never want you to do that.  I never want you to give up on your own life, even if something were to happen to both Scott and I.  Please promise me you won’t do that.”

Johnny just stared at the ground.

“Johnny?  Son?”

“I can’t, Murdoch.  I can’t promise you that.  It wouldn’t have been a problem a year ago, but now, now, I’m not sure if I could make it without my family.”

His blue eyes were so full of emotion, Murdoch couldn’t stop himself.  He sat his drink down and turned to Johnny, pulling him tight.

“Honestly son, I don’t think I would either.”

———-d.b.brisbin, May 2010

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14 thoughts on “Trick Shooter by d.b. brisbin

    1. Thanks, I loved all of his Gunsmoke roles. Vengeance was probably my favorite. Although, he looked the best in Yankton and the Widow and the Rogue. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the comments. Donna


      1. Very good, I don’t remember if I saw gunsmoke when I was young. But I like this story with those deep feelings between father and son
        Thank you so much for writing.


  1. I agree, Bob let Dillon kill him. I seem to remember reading Quentin Tarantino thought Vengeance was an excellent example of a western.


    1. I didn’t know this story was based on a Gunsmoke episode until I read the comments. But I still enjoyed it very much as a stand alone story. Now I know the Bob character was played by JS I like it even more!


  2. Loved the father/son talk. Bob was an interesting and well-developed character. The parallels with Johnny and Johnny’s reaction to his death were intriguing. Thanks for sharing.


  3. Thank you very much and you are welcome! Thank you for reading and for taking the time to put down your thoughts about it in a reply. Donna


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