"You Johnny Madrid?" The hawk-nosed sheriff stared at the shorter man in the cell of his jail.
"Maybe." Hat pulled down over the sapphire eyes, the man lay quietly on the rickety cot provided for the comfort of wayward denizens.
"Thought so. Seen you one time. Shot a man 'n his gun didn't even clear the holster."
"Could be. Don't remember 'em all." The younger man conceded.
The whipcord-thin figure moved closer to the bars. "Don't s'pose you do, but this one's diff'r'nt, ain't it?"
Madrid ignored the question.
"Said, this one's diff'r'nt, ain't it?"
"I heard you, old man. Just leave me alone. Don't tell nothin' to nobody 'bout my mysterious past." The dark-haired gunfighter turned over so that his back was to the sheriff.
Shaking his head, the lawman walked over to the iron stove where a coffee pot sat. Ladling out a cup of mud, the man sat down and started to go through some old wanted posters. He stopped at the fourth one, glanced back at the man in the cell and then went on to finish looking at the rest of the pile. Not many wanted men ever showed up in Parson's Corner.
Raising his voice slightly, the once ginger-haired man called out, "One cup of coffee left in the pot. You want it?"
"No thanks," Madrid muttered into the grimy pillow under his head.
"Lady over ter the cafÃ© don't bring food 'round for 'nother four hours," the man warned.
This time there was no reply at all.
The day was hot and sunny. Sheriff Emanuel Boggs didn't like the heat. As much as possible he tried to stay indoors on a day like this, but it wasn't always possible. The capture of Johnny Madrid, earlier that day, had forced him to put on his shiny badge and make the effort to uphold the law of his small town. Fortunately, he had managed to conduct his investigation with a minimum of effort since there had been three witnesses. The corpse had gone to the undertaker and the
prisoner had gone to jail. Just the kind of crime Boggs liked. Neat, tidy, and with no bloodshed on his part.
Boggs had fallen into the position of sheriff by accident. Riding through town over a year before, he had stopped for a shot of rotgut, but had tripped off the end of the wooden sidewalk, resulting in a broken arm. The arm had mended well, but by the time he felt capable of riding any distance, he realized that he didn't want to move on.
Happily for the jobless man, the sheriff at the time had just endured his fourth bout of gout and wanted to give up the job to a younger man. Not that Emanuel was that much younger, but just enough to make him a candidate. Assured by the gouty George Gibbs that Parson's Corner was a quiet, law-abiding, church-loving community, Boggs took the job. He had never regretted it until Johnny Madrid rode into town.
Still, it would look good on his monthly report. He had captured--single-handedly--the notorious gunslinger, Johnny Madrid. Of course, the fact that Madrid had handed over his weapon with only a hiccup had more to do with that coincidence than Boggs' prowess with a 6-shooter.
The dark-haired man in the red shirt and black jingly pants had twirled the gun in his right hand and then handed it to the lawman, before swaying slowly over to the jail. Naturally, Emanuel had been grateful, particularly after he realized just who it was sitting in his cell. His heart still thumped loudly at the thought of what might have happened. His pay wasn't enough to die for.
Deciding to write out his report while it was still fresh in his mind, Boggs took out a semi-stained piece of paper and cleaned the tip of his ink pen. He wanted to make sure that this report had no blotches on it. Tongue sticking slightly out his mouth, he began to write in his most careful handwriting.
Unfortunately, the opening of the door distracted him slightly and his 'y' became a 'g'. Groaning in frustration, he looked up, eyes blazing, at the tall man in the door. "What the hell do you want?" he demanded.
The tall man entered and stood in front of the desk. "I understand that you have arrested a man named Johnny Madrid."
"That's right, but what's it to you?" Boggs picked up the piece of paper, crushing it against his elbow.
"My name is Murdoch Lancer. John Madrid is my son."
Faded blue eyes opened wide. "You don't say!"
"I. . .I haven't seen my son in twenty years. The ranch has been really, really busy so I just discovered he has been going by the name of Toledo. . .I mean Madrid. The Pinkertons found him in Mexico and he was supposed to be on his way to Lancer, but when he didn't show up, I tracked him here."
"Too bad, mister. Looks like you're in for a big disappointment." Emanuel tried to show a sympathetic attitude.
The sheriff gestured over towards the cell. "Your boy there is bein' held for murder."
"That's. . .impossible," Murdoch protested. "No son of mine would murder someone!"
"Cain't help that. Three good people saw him draw down on this feller. Feller's dead 'n tomorrow we're gonna plant him on Boot Hill. Kind of sounds like murder t'me."
Stunned, the rancher walked over to look at the man lying on the cot. "Johnny. . .Son, tell me you didn't kill a man!"
Madrid rolled slowly over to look at the man talking to him. "And just who might you be?"
"I'm Murdoch Lancer, your father. Didn't your mother tell you about me?"
"Murdoch. . .Lancer?" Johnny murmured it as if it was said in a foreign tongue. "Guess maybe she did mention that name once or twice. 'Course mostly it was in curses. Didn't think much of you, old man."
"We, uh, had our differences, but I've been looking all over for you when the cows would let me."
"'n now you've found me. Am I what you expected?" the younger man sneered.
"I. . .I knew you were a . . .gunfighter, but not a killer."
Johnny roared with laughter. "Whooee, you must read a lot of them dime novels. What do you think a gunfighter does?"
"You know what I mean!" The big man gnawed on his fist in frustration.
Madrid's sapphire eyes shuttered over. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Live by some code, right? Fight for the little people? Well, a code don't fill your belly and it's hard on the nose."
"Why didn't you come to Lancer? The Pinkerton man told you about my deal, didn't he?"
"Oh sure, somethin' about $1000--all in 2-bit coins--wasn't it? Nice, tidy sum. Man could start a new life, always supposin' he wanted to."
"That wasn't going to be all. I was ready to share the ranch with you--if you helped me."
"Aw, and now I've missed my chance, I s'pose? Well, mebbe they won't hang me 'n I can still take you up on the offer."
Lancer's face blanched as he gulped, "Hang?"
"Hell, yes, what do you think they do with murderers? Pat 'em on the back and say, 'Go 'n sin no more.'"
"But it has to be a mistake! I know you're a good boy, just misguided. I'll get you a lawyer."
Emanuel Boggs politely interrupted, "Nearest lawyer's three days west of here. Circuit judge, 'Hangin' Bailey, 'll be here day after t'morrow."
The tall rancher gulped again. but manfully continued, "I've always been devoted to the law, maybe I can defend him?"
"You'd do that? Me bein' a pig in a poke 'n all? You don't even know me." Madrid questioned.
"You're my son. I'm not going to lose you now."
Johnny's eyes became moist. "Thanks. . .pa."
Murdoch turned to the sheriff. "If I'm going to defend my son, I need to know exactly what happened. What do you know about the victim? Maybe we can prove he provoked Johnny. And what about the witnesses; I'm sure I can impeach their testimony. Tell me their names and I'll go talk to them right now! There's no time to lose."
"Sure. Jim Dandy, he's a gambler, Seabiscuit Colt, he's a horse thief and Lulu Topp, she's, well, she's a. . .whore."
"Right pretty too 'n got a heart of gold," Johnny added. 'Was just talkin' to her when this fella interrupts me. I told him to get his own. . .date, but he kept at me so I turned to face him 'n he went for his gun."
Murdoch's eyes lit up. "He went for a gun? Then how could you arrest my boy, Sheriff? It was self-defense!"
Boggs shook his head. "Didn't have gun. Jist a piece of paper. He was dead 'fore he hit the ground."
"Thought it was a gun," the boy sniffed, "Wouldn't have shot him otherwise."
Wishing that he could give the youngster a hug, Murdoch reached through the bars to pat his son on the arm. "I know that. Now we just have to prove it. Where is this piece of paper? Maybe he intended to threaten Johnny or something."
"Got it in my desk drawer. Thought the judge might wanna take a gander at it."
Boggs opened the drawer and found the paper. "Funny thing is I didn't look at it afore. Let's see what it says. Mebbe it'll have the feller's name. Hate to put up just a rock."
Boggs opened up the folded document and began to read. "Yeah, here it is. Feller's name was Scott. . .Lancer. Lancer? Ain't that what you said yur name is?"