The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Winj

 

Birth Of A Legend

 

 

 

She slipped quietly into the darkened bedroom and wrapped the sleeping child in a blanket. The baby whined softly, then cuddled up to her, falling into sleep once more.

Tiptoeing, she made it down the stairs and out the front door. Once there, she could allow herself a moment to breathe. She looked around and listened but heard nothing but the normal sounds of the night. She headed toward the side of the house and a waiting surrey.

He took the child from her so she could climb in, then handed it back as he gave her a smile. She smiled back and nodded her head. He flicked the reins and they moved forward slowly and quietly as they could.

The child murmured and she shushed it, pulling him closer to her bosom.

Once far enough away, the man put the horses into a trot and they were gone.

******

At daybreak they stopped near a river to water the horses and rest. The child opened his eyes and looked around. Unsure where he was, he began to whimper.

"Shhh, hush now. It's alright," she cooed.

"Mama?"

"Yes, love, I'm here."

"Where's papa?"

She closed her eyes briefly and sighed. "He is not here, Johnny."

"Where is he?" the child asked, growing more anxious.

"At home."

"I want papa."

"No, son, you can't see him right now."

"No!" he struggled and wriggled away from her hold. Climbing down from the surrey, he nearly fell when two big hands caught him and swung him up.

"Here now, what's all this fuss?"

"Let go! I want papa!"

"I'm your papa now, boy."

Johnny looked at the man, the stranger holding him and frowned. "You're not papa."

"From now on, you call me papa."

Tears welled in the child's eyes as he looked from the man to his mother. "Mama?"

She took him in her arms and hugged him tight. "It's alright, son. This is your papa now. Your other papa doesn't want you anymore."

"He does, too! He's takin me ridin today. He promised! I want my papa!" he yelled and the tears streamed down his little face.

"We should go," she said to the man.

*****

Johnny cried himself to sleep until the surrey stopped again. Maria handed him to the man and stepped down, taking her son back once more. She laid him under the shade of a tree and slipped off to take care of her business.

Johnny opened his eyes and didn't know where he was. He sat up and rubbed his face with his small hands and looked around. He started to panic when he didn't see his mother. He got up and called out to her softly, afraid the man might hear him.

When she didn't answer, he felt raw fear in his heart and he took off running. He felt a hand grab him by his collar and yank him back.

"Where do you think you're going, boy?" the man asked.

"Home!"

"You ain't goin nowhere except back to your mama."

"Let me go, I want my papa!"

The man grabbed his arms and shook him hard. "You listen to me, boy. You got no choice here. You're goin with your mama and that's it. It's the only way I could get her away from here so just live with it."

Johnny didn't understand the man. His words made no sense to the young boy. He struggled to get free only to find himself held tighter. Tears started falling again as he cried out. "That hurts!"

"What are you doing?" Maria gasped.

"Just tryin to make this boy understand he ain't goin home."

"Mama, he hurted me," Johnny cried.

"Come to me, miel," she said softly.

He ran into her arms and she hugged him close. "He won't hurt you again. Will you?"

The man glared at her for a split second, then smiled. "I didn't mean to hurt you, boy. I won't do it again."

"Papa never hurted me. Mama, I want to go home, pleeesse," he cried.

"Oh Johnny, we are going to a new home now. One where we will be happy."

"I was happy, mama. I want papa," he said and started sobbing.

She thought her heart might break just then. Why did she think this would be easy for her son? She began to question her decision to bring him along but she knew she could not have left him, not ever. She held him as he cried his little heart out.

"Maria, we need to get going," the man said.

"Uno momento, por favor," she replied.

"Now," he said harshly.

She stood up, Johnny clinging to her, and glared at him. "I told you before Ace, my son will always come first."

"You want to stand around here until Lancer rides up?"

Hearing his name, Johnny began to cry even harder.

"Shut that kid up before I do it for you!"

"You will not harm him. You promised me!"

"Yeah well, I didn't bargain for a whiny little brat!"

"He is not! He is frightened, surely you can understand that."

"All I understand is I don't want to get a bullet in the back from your old man! Now let's go!" he yelled and grabbed her arm, pulling her to the surrey.

He grabbed Johnny from her and pushed her into the seat then fairly threw the child at her before jumping in himself.

Johnny screamed as he flailed through the air, landing in his mother's lap. She held him tightly and tried to calm him but it was to no avail. The child was inconsolable.

*****

They traveled well into the night before stopping again. Maria settled Johnny in next to her and laid down on her bedroll. She felt Ace come near her as he cupped her breast and began kissing her.

"Not in front of Johnny," she whispered.

"He's asleep."

"He always awakens at least once during the night," she explained.

"Then let him. He better get used to seeing us together," he said and kissed her roughly.

"Stop," she tried.

He grabbed her face between his hands, forcing her to look at him. "You're my woman and you will satisfy me. I don't give a damn about that kid and you knew that. So just shut up and take those clothes off!"

Johnny opened his eyes and saw the man on top of his mother. To the boy, it looked like he was hurting her. He sprang up and jumped on the Ace's back, beating him with his small fists.

"Leave her alone!" he yelled.

He twisted around and flung Johnny off his back easily, grabbing the boy by the hair and pulling him back to him.

"What the hell are you doin, kid?"

"Leave her alone. Don't hurted my mama!"

Ace began to laugh hard. "I ain't hurtin her, boy. She likes it, don't ya, mama?"

"Please don't confuse him," she said as she pulled the blanket over her nakedness. "Johnny, come here. He was not hurting me, son. I know you don't understand and that is alright. Just know that if you see us like this, mama isn't being hurt, okay?"

"When are we going home?" Johnny asked.

"We are not going home, Johnny. Not that home," she said.

*******

The next day Johnny was quiet and Maria began to worry about him. Johnny was never quiet for long but this day he had not spoken a word.

She kept looking behind her to check on him and each time, his eyes were cast down and his head hung low.

At noon, they stopped for lunch and she turned to tell him but he was gone.

"Dios, he's gone! Help me find him," she cried as she jumped from the surrey.

Ace turned the rig around and headed back the way they had come as she ran along the side of the road watching the tree line. He cursed under his breath. Why did she have to bring that damned kid with her!

It didn't take long to find him running down the road in the direction they had come from. He pulled the surrey up and jumped down, catching him easily.

Ace grabbed Johnny by the arms and hoisted him in the air so they were face to face.

"Boy, you are gettin to be more trouble than you're worth. You try another stunt like that and I'll kill you. You hear me? I will kill you!"

Johnny's eyes were as big as quarters as he stared at the man. Those eyes filled with tears that spilled down his dusty face. "Kill me?"

"That's right, boy. Then you won't have your mama anymore. That what you want?"

"I want my papa," he replied, figuring he was being asked a question.

He fell to the ground with a hard thump as Ace simply released his hold. Johnny began to cry in earnest as his bottom started to sting.

"What did you do?" Maria asked as she made it to the scene.

"Just teaching the boy some manners."

She scooped Johnny up and carried him back to the surrey as he buried his face in her neck.

"Mama, he's mean."

"Ssshhh, don't cry, miel. Please, don't make him angry anymore. You must stop running away, stop asking for your papa and stop saying you want to go home."

"But.."

"No buts, Johnny, do as I say," she said firmly.

"Yes, mama," he answered dejectedly.

Johnny made sure he stayed close to his mother while they ate lunch. She tried to get him to play for a while but he refused.

"Go play, boy," Ace said.

"Don't want to," Johnny mumbled.

"I didn't ask if ya wanted to. Go play, me and your mama got to finish up somethin you interrupted last night," he said with a grin.

She stared at him for a moment then dropped her eyes. "Go ahead, son. We will be over in those bushes but you must not disturb us unless you are hurt," she said and pushed him off her lap.

"Hmmph, unless you're bleedin real bad."

Johnny walked off a few paces and watched as the man took his mother's hand and led her into the bushes. He sighed and wondered what they could be doing in there. He started looking around at the ground and found some arrowheads. These occupied him until his mother showed herself again.

"Mama, you okay?"

"Yes, miel, I am fine," she smiled.

"Sure are, let's go," Ace grinned.

******

That night they arrived in a town and Johnny watched the buildings and people as they passed by. He had never seen a town before and he wondered what the people did here. They stopped in front of a small hotel.

"Johnny, we will sleep in a bed tonight. Would you like that?" Maria asked.

Johnny only shrugged, he didn't care where he slept right now. All he wanted was to go home but he couldn't say that anymore.

She lifted him down and took his hand as they walked inside the building. Johnny wrinkled his nose at the bad smells and looked up at his mother who was doing the same.

"Is this the best you can do?" she asked.

"For now. It will get better, I told you, I just have to have a good night."

She looked suspiciously at him then nodded, casting a glance at her son who was taking it all in.

They walked into the room and Maria gasped. "Dios, we cannot stay here!"

"We're gonna have to, just for tonight," he said.

"I would rather sleep outside," she said.

"Tough! This is it. Now, lay the kid down."

"Where?" she asked, her arms waving about the room.

"That corner'll do."

"No, I will not let my son sleep in such filth. He is not used to this," she said, her eyes flashing defiantly.

He slapped her hard across the face and she gasped and held Johnny's hand tighter.

Johnny twisted around and kicked Ace in the shin and screamed at him. "Stop hurted my mama!"

He grabbed at the boy but he darted behind his mother's skirts. They played catch me if you can for a few seconds before Maria yelled to stop.

"You will not hit me again," she hissed.

"You keep a civil tongue in your mouth, woman. You can't go back, you know, so just do like I tell ya. Now, I'm goin to check out the action at the saloon. You do whatever you want but get that kid settled before I come back," he spat and headed out the door.

Maria knelt down and hugged Johnny to her. "What have I done?" she whispered.

"Mama? Can we go home now?" Johnny asked in a whisper.

"No, miel, we can never go home again."

"Why?"

She sighed, so tired of the questions and still feeling the sting across her cheek. She took his arms and squared him to her. "Listen to me well, Johnny. Your papa does not want you or me. He threw us out in the middle of the night. This man has helped us out of the kindness of his heart. You will stop being such a brat and be nice to him. No matter what he says or does, you will not hit him or yell at him again. Do you understand?"

Johnny, shocked at his mother's tone, could only nod.

"And another thing, I never want to hear you ask to go home or for your papa again! He doesn't love you. He doesn't want you. Understand?" she said angrily.

He nodded again as the tears fell once more. He dropped his head and sniffled.

When Johnny lifted his eyes to hers once more, something inside her snapped. She looked into the sapphire orbs and saw only one thing - Murdoch Lancer. She pushed Johnny away from her and fell onto the bed, weeping.

She felt the light touch caress her hair and sobbed harder.

"Mama, don't cry, I'll be good, I promise."

"Leave me alone, Johnny. Leave mama alone," she said through the pillow.

He slid off the bed and went to stand in the corner, not knowing where else he could go. He slid down to the floor and began to cry again. He felt something nibble at his leg and looked up. His scream pierced the air like a knife and she bolted off the bed.

"What is it, what's wrong?"

Johnny could only scream and point at the huge rat that had skittered to the other corner of the room. She grabbed him up and put him on the bed with her, holding him close and rocking him until he finally fell asleep.

That's where he found them both when he came back. Mother and son asleep on the bed.

Johnny felt himself being jerked up by the arm and cried out. He was lifted up and summarily plopped in the corner of the room.

"What are you doing?" Maria asked.

"I told you to put him somewhere, I didn't mean our bed!"

"There are rats..."

"So? Ain't gonna hurt him. He'll be fine," he said, lowering his voice huskily.

He sat on the bed and grabbed her around the waist, pulling her into a rough kiss. She could smell the whiskey on his breath.

"Did you have a good night?" she asked.

"Hell no! Don't you worry though, honey. Tomorrow will be better. I got the lay of the land tonight. You'll see, by tomorrow night, we'll be in the lap of luxury," he promised, then pushed her down and began making love to her.

Johnny watched quietly in the corner as the man groped his mother and made her make strange noises. She had told him not to interfere and he didn't. He put his hands to his ears to try and block the sound, all the while watching out for the rat to come back.

******

The next morning, Maria put him in the bed and covered him up. Johnny slept most of the day, having been forced to stay awake most of the night by fear.

She sighed as she watched him sleep. Once more she wondered if she'd made a mistake by bringing him with her. She thought about this man she was with now. He didn't like her son but she thought in time he would grow to care for the boy. Johnny just needed time to adjust to this new life. She was sure once he had made good with his gambling, they would be much more comfortable and her son would not sit up all night ever again.

Ace swept into the room, grinning. "Come on, honey, let's take a ride and see what this town has to offer."

"What about Johnny?"

"Let him sleep. We'll be back way before he wakes up. Kid's worn out from all this travelin around. Come on."

She looked at him with doubt then allowed him to guide her out of the room. She looked back once more to make sure Johnny was asleep.

*****

Johnny awoke and sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He looked around the room and saw it was empty. "Mama?"

"Mama!"

He jumped out of the bed, then remembered and jumped back, checking the floor and corners for any furry creatures. Seeing none, he chanced it and took off for the door. He swung it open and stepped into the hall.

"Mama!" His breathing increased rapidly and his little heart beat like a hummingbird's wings as he looked up and down the hall wild-eyed.

Taking a deep breath, Johnny screamed. "Mama!"

A door opened and a middle-aged woman stepped out.

"Good Lord, boy, what're ya caterwaulin about?"

"Have you seen my mama?" he asked hopefully.

"No, honey, I ain't. What's her name?"

"Maria Lancer," Johnny announced proudly. It hadn't been that long since he'd learned his parent's names and he still remembered how proud papa had been.

This memory caused him to tear up and he hung his head. "My papa don't want me no more."

The woman's hand went to her ample bosom. "Oh, honey, I'm sorry. You come on in here with me until your mama gets back. That way ya won't have ta be alone, okay?"

"What if mama don't want me neither?" he asked, his blue eyes glistening.

She just about lost it then and pulled the child to her. "Well, now, if she don't then I'll take care of ya. How's that sound? Old Millie will take good care of you, handsome."

He screwed his face into a frown. "Hansom?"

She chuckled at that face. "It means good lookin'. Come on now."

Millie found some 'toys' for Johnny to play with, it occupied the child at least. She watched him play and she was getting angrier by the minute. How could a woman leave her child alone like that? And the child says his father doesn't want him? She had to have told him that.

"Johnny, how old are you, honey?"

Johnny held up two fingers and went back to playing.

Two years old and already life has slapped the tar out of him. She sighed heavily.

They heard a woman's voice calling out to him. Johnny's head shot up and he smiled. Millie thought she could just die happy seeing that smile.

"Mama!" he called and bolted to the door. "Mama!"

"Johnny, where did you go? You scared me half to death!"

"He's been with me the whole time. Kid woke up alone and got scared. Came out in the hall screamin for his mama. He thought maybe you didn't want him no more neither," Millie explained with a raised brow, her hands on her hips.

"Thank you for watching him. I did not intend to be gone so long," Maria said, her cheeks turning red as she escorted Johnny back to their room.

He pulled back and looked behind him, flashing a smile as brilliant as the sun. "Thanks, Millie!"

"You're welcome, handsome."

Once inside the room, Maria glared at her son. "Don't you ever do that again!"

"Do what, mama?"

"Take off like that, Johnny."

"I didn't know where you were. I was scared," he whimpered.

"God, that boy is gonna be a wimp," Ace commented.

"He is only two years old!"

"Mama, I'm hungry," Johnny said.

"Yes, miel, I imagine you are. Come along and we will get you something to eat."

They sat in a small cafe attached to the saloon while Johnny devoured his ham and eggs. Maria smiled tenderly at her son's appetite. She reached over from time to time to wipe his mouth, to which Johnny responded by swatting at her hand.

"Are we gonna live here, mama?"

"No, son. This is only temporary," she smiled.

"Tempa ...."

"For a little while," she explained. She made a mental note that they would have to settle somewhere that had a school for her son to attend when he was old enough.

"All done," he smiled.

"Good boy."

"Yeah that was quite an achievement, kid. Can we go now?" Ace said sarcastically.

She shot him a nasty look then took Johnny's hand and left the building. As they walked along, Johnny spied a window dressing.

He yanked and pulled on his mother's hand as he jumped up and down excitedly. "Candy, mama, candy!"

"Alright, Johnny, I see it."

"Can I have some, pleeeese?"

Maria laughed at his exuberance. "Si, miel, come on."

Ace sighed loudly but she ignored him and took her son inside the store. They approached the counter and she smiled. "What do you want, Johnny?"

He smiled brightly and began looking at the assortment until he heard a gruff voice.

"Don't matter what he wants, it ain't for sale."

"Is there a problem, Senor?" Maria asked.

"Yes, lady, there's a problem. Get that half-breed outta my store!"

"He is a child," she said coldly.

"If you say so, but I want him outta here before someone sees him. And don't let him touch nothin!"

Maria stared daggers through the man but he would not yield. "Come, Johnny. We do not want this candy."

"Yes I do, mama. That one," Johnny said, confused as to what the problem was.

"No, son, not here," she said and pulled him from the store.

"What's the matter?" Ace asked.

"He would not sell to .... Johnny," she said, tears brimming in her eyes.

"Better get used to that, Maria. It'll be the same anywhere you go with that

kid."

"Mama?" Johnny looked up at her. "Whatsa half breed?"

"That's what you are, kiddo. Half-Mexican and half-white. Not many people are gonna want anything to do with you," Ace explained.

"Stop that! He is too young to understand," Maria spat.

"Well you best make him understand before he gets hisself into all kinds of trouble."

Johnny was frowning, not able to grasp the situation and wondering why his mama was so upset. Utmost on his mind was the fact that he still had no candy. "Mama? Candy?"

"Later, miel. I will get you some candy later," she sighed. Turning to Ace she asked, "would you go and buy it for him? He wants peppermint."

Ace rolled his eyes but figured maybe the kid would give him a break if he did this, so he went into the store and returned a minute later with a bag of peppermint sticks.

"What do you say, Johnny?"

Johnny looked at his mother, then at Ace and sighed. "Thank you."

"Sure kid," Ace said and even smiled at the boy. Then he got a bright idea. "Hey, you tired of walking, Johnny?"

Johnny shrugged his shoulders.

Ace picked him up and set him up on his shoulders as they set off back to the hotel. Johnny didn't like it but when he looked at his mother, she was smiling big so he didn't say anything.

*****

That night, Maria once more laid her son in the bed with her while Ace was out playing poker. He awakened her at 2 a.m.

"Come on, Maria, we got to go," he said in hushed tones.

"Go? Go where?" she asked, still hazy.

"Anywhere, honey, I got in a little jam and, well, we need to get movin. Come on, grab the kid and let's go!"

The urgency in his voice frightened her but she got up and dressed quickly, then picked Johnny up as gently as she could.

They made it to the surrey and Maria and Johnny were seated when two men came out of the shadows.

"Goin somewhere, Ace?"

He turned, startled by the voices, then smiled. "Well, I was just takin my family to visit relatives. I was comin back."

"In the middle of the night? Must be some relatives."

"Listen fellas, I'm gonna pay you back, I swear. I just need to get me a bankroll," Ace explained nervously.

One of the men walked up to Maria's side of the surrey, noting the sleeping child in her arms. "You know me, ma'am?"

"No, Senor."

"You ever gonna know me?"

Maria suddenly realized what he was asking and she clutched Johnny closer. "No, Senor."

The shot rang out loudly in the still town and Ace went down with a whimper. The two men walked away casually, leaving a frightened Maria with a crying child in her arms.

*******

Murdoch Lancer awoke with the sunrise as usual. He turned over and frowned when he saw he was alone. Figuring Maria had gone to check on Johnny, he got up and prepared to start the day. Once dressed, he walked down the hall to his son's room with a smile on his face. He had promised to take the boy riding today and he knew very well Johnny wouldn't let him forget.

With a near laugh, he opened the door and found the room empty. Must be downstairs already, he thought. He headed down the back stairs and into the kitchen. The stove was cold and no one was about. He walked outside and looked around.

With a perplexed expression, he went to the living room and found it too was empty. He walked out the front door and called to a hand, asking if they'd seen his family this morning. Getting a no, Murdoch began to feel anxious. He ran back upstairs to his bedroom and looked around but nothing seemed out of place.

He opened the closet and noticed some of his wife's clothes were gone, more than should be. He started opening dresser drawers and stopped at the second one. There was a white envelope with his name written in elegant cursive, a handwriting he knew well to be his wife's. Murdoch sat on the side of the bed and ripped the envelope open.

By the time you read this, Johnny and I will be gone. You will never find us and we will never come back. I hope you are happy with your ranch, Maria.

He stared at the words, aghast. Gone? Johnny is gone? The thought refused to register in his mind, a mind that was whirling with fear and anxiety. Where had she taken him? How? He shook himself out of the daze and ran downstairs.

Murdoch saddled a horse quickly and rode out at a mile-eating gallop. He searched the entire ranch, then headed south to Morro Coyo. No one had seen his wife and son in the small town. He realized he couldn't just take off so he headed back to the ranch for supplies and to inform his foreman he was leaving.

Distress threatened to swallow him whole as he packed and left instructions. He felt he couldn't move fast enough, as if he were bogged down in quicksand. Finally, he was on his way and he knew of only one direction to head - south.

He stopped at every two-bit town between the ranch and the Mexican border. He made it to Mexico in three days, quite a feat, but he hadn't slept those three days. He was desperate to find his wife and especially, his son.

Hitting all the border towns, he asked the same question and was met with the same answer; sometimes with kindness but most often with a glare. He knew what they thought and he didn't care, he had to find Johnny.

Murdoch spent two months in Mexico. He couldn't believe how hard it was to find one child, one mixed child in the country. He finally had to concede he wouldn't find them like this. He headed back to the ranch, formulating a plan in his mind as he rode. As soon as he returned home, he sent a wire to the Pinkerton Agency.

******

SEVEN YEARS LATER

Johnny came tearing into the house and slammed the door behind him. He leaned against it, fighting for air.

"What in the world?" Maria asked.

Johnny walked over to the bed where she was still laying this late afternoon. "Nothin, mama. Just playin," Johnny said.

"Well, play more quietly," she said.

"Si, mama."

"Get me some coffee, Johnny, and run me a bath," she ordered.

He set about making the coffee then started the water to boil, then he dragged the tub out to the middle of the floor.

He took the coffee to her and she raised up enough to take a sip, groaning as her head exploded in pain. "Madre del Dios," she murmured.

She spit the first sip of coffee out. "This is awful!"

"We only had grounds left," Johnny explained.

"You could have told me. Dammit, Johnny, do you never think!?"

"Sorry," he mumbled.

"You're always sorry. Never mind, is the water ready?"

"Yes, mama."

She dragged herself out of the bed, naked as the day she was born and stumbled over to the tub.

Johnny dropped his eyes to keep from looking at her.

"Well? Come wash my back," she said.

He walked over and soaped the rag and washed her back without a word, keeping his eyes averted.

"Mmmmm, that feels good, miel," she moaned. "Oh Johnny, I am so tired. I don't know if I'll be able to work tonight. Did you make any money today?"

"Only three pesos, mama."

"Well, it's better than nothing. Leave it on the table for me."

"I was going to go to the store. We need food and you need coffee."

"Not this time. I'll need that money tonight. Mmmm, wash my front for me, miel."

"You can do it."

"I know I can do it but you do it better. Why must you argue with me over every little thing!" she lashed out.

"Sorry," he mumbled and she sighed and shook her head.

"Someday, Johnny, sorry will not get you out of trouble."

She finished the rest of her bath herself for which Johnny was immensely grateful. He hated it when she wouldn't or couldn't do it herself and he was made to.

"Mama, I'm going to see if I can make some more money now," he called.

"Alright, Johnny. You know I may be home late. If I have a man with me..."

"I know, stay out of the way," he interrupted.

She slammed the door closed before he could get out it and he turned in surprise. She slapped him hard across the face.

"Do not mock me, boy."

"I wasn't, I ...."

"That mouth of yours is going to get you killed someday. Do you think I will cry over you? You cause me nothing but trouble. Get out of here!"

Johnny ran outside, still holding his left cheek as he fought the tears away. He ran until he got to his hiding place. The place he went when he needed to stay out of her way at night. It was an old, run down shack at the edge of town. Sometimes, he would find a drunk or two in there but mostly, it was his own.

He sat in the stale hay and fought to keep from crying. He had a practice for this, he bit the inside of his cheek until the feeling went away. Sometimes, his mouth would bleed before he could make the tears stop threatening. He would never let her see him cry, not ever again. She had made fun of him in front of all the children once when he'd cried. Never again, he had vowed.

Once the feeling passed, Johnny pulled out his treasure from the loose floorboard where he kept it. He ran his hand over the metal and wood, luxuriating in the feeling it gave him. He'd gotten it off a dead gunmen who lost his last fight. There was much hubbub after that particular fight and Johnny saw the opportunity to grab the man's gun.

The other man had hung for it, since they couldn't find the dead man's gun. They accused him of cold-blooded murder. Johnny figured at some point the gringo had done just that, so it didn't bother him too much when they'd hanged him.

Dammit! He was gonna use that money to buy more bullets. Why did he tell her he had it? He twirled the gun on his finger, fascinated by the pure power he felt just having it.

He pulled out his other treasure, the money he saved from his jobs, and counted it. He was surprised to find more than he thought was there. Counting it again, more carefully, he realized he had enough for a box of ammunition.

At least she'd taught him to read and write and count, he thought wryly. Of course, that was before she'd become a full-fledged drunk. Johnny shook his head sadly. Well, it wasn't his problem. He had no control over what she did anymore than she could really control him, not that she tried to very often. Every now and then she would get the urge to play mama, but usually she just left him to his own devices and he liked that just fine.

He got up and put the gun away, then stuffed the money into his pocket and headed for the gun shop.

The owner saw him come in and smiled. "Your boss need more ammo already? That man must do a lot of shootin."

"He likes to practice," Johnny said. It wasn't a true lie, only a half one. The old man didn't need to know it was he who wanted the bullets.

The man pulled out a box of shells and Johnny paid him. Smiling, he realized he had enough left to get something to eat. He headed back to his shack and secured the ammo, then went to the back of the cantina.

"Mamacita," he called from the back door.

"What is it?"

"Tamales, por favor," he said, handing her the money.

"Bueno," she smiled slightly. She liked him but she couldn't really let him know, otherwise, every hungry child in the area would be knocking at her back door.

Johnny knew she liked him but pretended he didn't. It was a game they played and he knew why.

He finished his meal and licked the plate clean before setting it at the back door as always. He headed for home, hoping to get a couple hours sleep before she came back with some hombre.

He walked in and heard her laughter and sighed. It wasn't even nine o'clock yet. "Johnny?"

"Si, mama. I didn't know you'd be back so soon," he called.

"Who's that, baby?" came the male voice.

"My son."

"Your son? He sounds white!" the man laughed.

Johnny's anger flared at this and he stepped into the bedroom. "Ain't none of your business, mister," he seethed.

"Whooee, he's a tough one, ain't he?"

"Johnny, get out of here," Maria said.

"Just wanted to tell you I won't be home for a couple of days. Got a job outside town," he lied.

"Alright, just go now," she waved him off.

"Yeah, see ya," he mumbled and slammed the door purposefully as he left.

******

"What's the story there, baby?" the man asked.

"Does it matter?"

"Just curious," he shrugged.

"I married a gringo because he got me pregnant. When Johnny was two I could take him no more and left with my son."

"Must be tough draggin a half-breed kid all over the place. He seems to take care of hisself, though."

"Yes, he does, doesn't he?" she said with a thoughtful look. "It would be better if he did not have those gringo eyes. Every time I look at him I see his father," she spat hatefully.

"Whooeee, you sure must hate that man."

"He never cared about me, only building his precious ranch. The only other thing he cared about was Johnny. Well, I could not take his ranch but I could take his son. Now he knows what it is like to feel pain!"

"Hey, easy honey. You make it sound like you don't even care about the kid."

She glared at him for a long second. "I used to. I loved him very much when he was little. Now, he is so headstrong. Every day I see more and more of his father in him. I cannot stand to look at him anymore."

"So? Take off. Who says you gotta keep dragging him around? Seems to me he don't exactly need your skirts no more."

Maria looked at him as if the thought had never occurred to her. Truthfully, it hadn't. She smiled seductively and her hand slipped under the covers. "Are you going to take me away from it all?"

******

Johnny headed to his other private place outside town. This is where he practiced his aim. Someday, he would get a gun belt so he could really practice. But for now, this would do fine. He was already hitting five out of six targets pretty much all the time. But he had watched the pistoleros and knew there was much more to it than that.

He had decided a year ago this is what he would do, how he would get away from her for good. He even thought, once he was good enough, he would go after that no count excuse for a father of his. Damned gringo!

He spent the next two days practicing for a while then exploring the area. He made his first kill then, a rabbit, and filleted it. It was pretty awful but he figured that was his cooking. He hated to go home and wondered sometimes why he even bothered. He reckoned she wouldn't notice him gone for at least a week.

But he knew he needed to get back to her, take care of her. Two days was about all she could handle alone. If he wasn't there, she wouldn't get out of bed at all. He headed back, stopping long enough to secure his gun.

Johnny walked into their small shack and stopped cold when he saw the priest standing there. The man turned and smiled sadly at him. He glanced around the room nervously, then brushed past the man to the bedroom. It was empty.

"Where is she?" he demanded.

"Listen to me, son..."

"Where's my mother?" he insisted.

"Johnny, your mother died."

Johnny slumped back against the wall and closed his eyes, shaking his head in disbelief. "How?" he finally whispered.

"Liquor. As much as we can tell, she drank too much two nights ago. A neighbor, Mrs. Ruiz, found her the next morning. We didn't know where you were but we had to bury her."

Johnny looked up at the old priest and saw the sympathy in his eyes. His anger emerged and he glared at the man. "So? Where'd you plant her?"

The priest was taken aback but quickly realized the boy was grieving. "Come with me."

He took Johnny to the graveyard next to the church and to the freshly dug grave. There was no marker, only a mound of dirt. "I can't give her a tombstone. I don't have any money," he said.

"I understand. The church will provide a small marker. It is all we can afford."

"Thanks," Johnny mumbled.

The priest squeezed his shoulder and Johnny tensed under the touch. "I will leave you alone with your grief. Come and see me when you are done. We must make arrangements for your care."

Johnny stood there for an hour just staring at the dirt. He didn't feel any grief, only anger. Anger that she had done this to herself and to him. She had finally and completely abandoned him. It would have been better if she'd just told him to hit the road.

He sighed and looked up at the sky. Make arrangements for his care? What a joke! He'd been caring for himself as long as he could remember. No way was he going to some orphanage or mission school.

Johnny returned to the house and gathered up his few belongings. He looked through her things and found some beaded bracelets she hadn't worn for some time. He slipped these on his wrist. He found her wedding ring as well and raised an eyebrow. Why did she keep this? he wondered. He slipped it on his thumb, as it was the only one it would fit on. He found a necklace with a silver medallion - St. Jude. He snorted at that. Guess she should have worn it, didn't do her any good in a drawer. He put that on as well.

Her black mantilla was lying in the drawer and he picked it up, fingering the silky lace. He placed that with his things then looked around the house once more. There was nothing else he wanted or needed from this place. He walked out, leaving the door wide open. Let the pillagers have it, he thought.

He retrieved his gun and stuck that in his bag as well, then walked out of town without a backwards glance.

******

FIVE YEARS LATER

"Come on Johnny, you can do it!"

"Shut up and let me concentrate, Pedro!"

The young man stood in front of the targets with his gun belt slung low on his narrow hips. His eyes were cold and set like diamonds. He felt his entire body relax as he readied himself. He drew and fired six times, hitting his target every time.

"Bueno! That was great, Johnny!" Pedro exclaimed.

"Yeah, it was alright," Johnny sighed.

"Alright? You hit every one of them!"

"I could do better," he said and walked over to retrieve the cans. He set them up again and Pedro sighed loudly.

"You gonna keep practicin? Let's go get somethin to eat."

"Later," Johnny clipped.

Pedro knew that tone of voice and he knew he would not be eating for awhile. He sat under a tree and watched his friend shoot the crap out of the tin cans.

"What the hell is goin on back there?" came a loud voice.

Pedro jumped up and slinked behind the tree while Johnny stood fast where he was and waited.

"Well, what're ya doin, boy?"

"Practicing."

"Practicin? For what?" the man asked.

Johnny smiled slightly at him. "What do you think?"

The man looked him up and down and fell out laughing. "What've we got here, a gunhawk?" he guffawed.

Johnny's eyes narrowed as he glared at the smithy. He said nothing and waited for the man to stop laughing.

"Boy, I don't know what you think you're a doin, but you're scarin my horses with all that racket!"

"I'm almost done," he replied softly.

"Oh? You're almost done, eh? Get outta here before I tan your backside and send you home to your mama."

"You really want to try that, mister?" he drawled softly.

The man laughed a little and took a step forward, then stopped. "Maybe I got a better idea." He turned and walked away and Johnny shrugged.

He went back to his shooting without another thought.

******

"That's him, the pistolero," the smithy laughed when he returned with another man.

"I hear you're aimin to make yourself a livin with that gun, boy. That true?" the other man asked.

"Maybe."

"Well, you're gonna have ta talk louder than that!"

"You heard me plain enough," Johnny replied.

"Smithy here thinks you need to practice on a live target. What do you think, boy?"

Johnny looked at the man and calculated his chances. "That would be up to you, mister."

"Hey now, Jack, I didn't mean for ya to square off. I just wanted to scare the kid," the smithy said.

"Don't look like the kid scares too easy, now does it? How old are you, boy?"

"Fifteen. How old are you?"

Jack smiled. "Twenty-one. What's your name?"

"Johnny Madrid."

"Never heard of ya."

"Ain't likely to after today neither."

"Yeah, why is that?"

"Don't reckon you can hear all that good from hell," Johnny drawled.

Pedro sucked in a breath when he heard this. He figured he'd just lost his best friend and his best means of eating with any regularity. Johnny always found a way to feed them, though Pedro never figured out how he did it.

At thirteen, he was still pretty new at this life of living on the streets. He had run away from home four months ago and met Johnny a week after that. Johnny had saved him from a beating by some other street kids and he'd been on Johnny's shirttails ever since.

The smile left Jack's face as he glared at the kid standing, no slouching, in front of him. He didn't seem to have a care in the world. Didn't seem to understand he was about to die.

"You must not like livin very much, boy."

"Ain't seen much to like about it," Johnny shrugged.

"Well, reckon I can help ya out with that," Jack said and drew his gun.

Johnny hit the ground and rolled to his left side, drawing and firing as he went. Jack went down to his knees, clutching at his chest and staring disbelievingly at the kid. His eyes rolled back in his head and he fell face first in the dirt.

Johnny stood up and stared at him in some kind of a daze.

"Boy, do you know who that was?" the smithy asked.

Johnny only shook his head.

"Well, you just killed one of the fastest guns I've ever seen, is all. That was Jack Forster. What'd you say your name was, Madrid?"

"That's right, Johnny Madrid," he said softly and walked away, Pedro on his heels.

"Wait up, Johnny. You did it, you really did it. You killed that gunfighter!" Pedro said as he jumped up and down.

Johnny stopped and faced him. "It ain't nothin to be happy about, Pedro!"

The boy frowned at him. "But, I thought that's what you wanted, to be a gunfighter."

"Well, I guess I got what I wanted. Don't mean I got to be happy about it!" Johnny snapped then turned and walked away.

Pedro's face screwed into a frown again, but he followed his friend anyway. Maybe now they could get something to eat.

Johnny kept walking until he was well out of town before he stopped by some boulders and sat down on one. Pedro caught up to him a few minutes later.

"Johnny, you okay?"

"Sure, Pedro, I'm fine. Don't kill a man everyday, is all."

"Ya might now. That Jack Forster, heck even I heard of him. Reckon that smithy is gonna spread it all over town how you took him down," Pedro smiled.

"Yeah."

"Well, come on, Johnny. This is what ya been talking about since I met ya. Wantin ta be a gunfighter and now ya are."

"I think it takes more than killing one man to be a gunfighter, Pedro. We'll see. Come on, I'll find ya something to eat," Johnny said, wrapping a protective arm around the smaller boy's shoulders.

Johnny took his friend back to town and walked into the saloon. The bartender looked at them both and told them to get out.

"I got money and we want to eat, mister," Johnny explained.

"You got money? Is that right? Well, go spend it someplace else. I don't serve no half-breeds in here!"

Johnny tensed immediately as a memory flooded his mind. He glared at the man as Pedro was pulling at his sleeve.

"Come on, Johnny, we can go someplace else."

"Johnny? Johnny who?" a man at a table asked.

Johnny turned and looked at him. "What's it to you?"

"That's gotta be him, Spence," the man's friend said.

"Yeah, I think you're right, Snake. You just took down Jack Forster, kid. That's some trick," Spence said with a sly grin.

"No trick to it," Johnny shrugged.

"What do you call it?"

"Skill."

Spence laughed and shook his head. Looking over at the bartender, he called out, "get these boys some food, old man."

The bartender sneered and went to the kitchen.

"Sit down, kid. Who's your friend?" Spence asked.

"I'm Pedro," the boy smiled.

"Well, Pedro, are you a gunhawk, too?" Spence asked, keeping his face impassive.

"No, sir."

"Sir! Well, this boy's got some manners. So, Johnny, how long have you been practicin this skill?"

"Why do you care?" Johnny asked, watching the man and his friend closely.

"Well, I may have to go up against you one of these days. I'd like to know how good you are," Spence smiled.

"Good enough to take out Forster," Johnny said flatly.

"Smart mouthed, too. Didn't your mama teach you no manners, kid?"

"She didn't teach me nothin except how to get drunk," the cold response came.

Spence watched the boy, seemingly deep in thought. "You want to ride with us?"

"No, thanks."

"Might not get a better offer," he pressed.

"Wasn't lookin for an offer in the first place."

"Maybe Pedro here wants to ride with us," Snake said, slapping the younger boy on the arm.

Pedro looked at him wide-eyed. "I go with Johnny."

Johnny began to feel uncomfortable with these men. He got a bad feeling from them both, especially the one called 'Snake'. He stood up and grabbed Pedro's arm.

"Come on, we gotta go."

"But we ain't eat yet, Johnny," Pedro complained.

"We'll get somethin, come on," Johnny said, pulling the boy out of the saloon. He was well aware of the eyes on his back as he left.

"I'm hungry. That man was gonna feed us. Why'd we leave?" Pedro asked.

"The price was too high," Johnny mumbled.

"He didn't say we had ta pay," Pedro said.

Johnny stopped and looked at the boy. "Pedro, they didn't want no money. They wanted ..... something else. Somethin we ain't givin them. Come on, there's a cantina down the street."

Once he made sure Pedro's belly was full, Johnny led him out of town and found a place to sleep.

"Johnny, I'm scared."

"Why?"

"I don't like the dark."

"There's nothing in the dark that ain't there in the light of day."

"What did that man want?"

"Never mind, go to sleep."

"I can't."

Johnny sighed and scooted closer to the boy and began stroking the top of his head. He had learned pretty early on it was about the only thing that soothed Pedro. He figured the kid's mama used to do that. Pedro never talked about his family and Johnny saw no reason to ask. He figured if Pedro wanted to talk, he would. The kid sure could gab on and on. It wasn't long before Pedro fell asleep and Johnny rolled over onto his side and closed his eyes.

Sleep was elusive as his mind replayed the scene at the livery. The first man he had ever shot much less killed. He still couldn't believe how quickly it had happened, how fast he had moved. He was proud and sick at the same time. He had practiced for years and now, when he needed it, that skill had come to light.

Well, maybe I'll start making that name for myself. That's what I wanted after all. Suddenly, he remembered the gringo bartender and his slur. The memory it evoked came back as well. He had wanted a piece of candy, that's all, and his mother was going to buy it for him. But the man wouldn't sell it and told her not to let him touch anything. Half-breed. That's all he ever heard, it seemed.

Sighing, he turned on his back to watch the night sky. Tears welled in his eyes as he remembered the way his mother had died and the fact that he hadn't been there when she did. He had acted like it didn't matter, like he didn't care, but that was a lie. Wiping angrily at his eyes, he swore he would never shed another tear for her. She'd done nothing for him but leave him on his own. He had never felt so alone in his life and that hadn't changed. Pedro was a nice kid but it wasn't the same. He was someone for Johnny to watch out for not someone he could really talk to about anything.

Better get used to it, he thought. You won't ever be able to talk to anyone, not really talk, now. You took that road and now there's no going back. Not that he wanted to go back. Back to what? Nothing. That's what he was and what he had - nothing. That would all change soon, though. Soon, his name would be known throughout the countryside. Johnny Madrid had arrived.

 

 

~end~

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