The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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goldieasj

 

 

The Dime Novel Hero

“Johnny, you in here? Johnny?” This was the last room in the stagecoach depot building Scott hadn’t checked. No luck. It was inconceivable that Johnny might have missed the stage since he was trying so hard to renounce his gunfighter past and be the best rancher possible. He had even telegraphed Scott that his meeting with the other big ranchers had gone well and the time his stage would be arriving. No, the only viable possibility was that the stage was late. Scott made his way back to the waiting room, making sure to give a wide berth to the door that he now knew led to an angry newlywed couple’s apartment. Fortunately, the stationmaster had returned by this time. Looking startled, he asked Scott, “Why did you go back there? What are you looking for?”

“You,” Scott said in minor annoyance. “I’m here to meet my brother due in on the noon stage, and it’s already 12:15!”

The man softened his attitude. “Sorry I wasn’t here earlier. That stage is going to be late, and there was a family waiting for it, so I took them over to the café so they can have some lunch. Just so you know, Jeb Winters rode in and said that the stage is going to be late because of a landslide. Happens few times a year, fairly regular. Don’t worry. He figures they’ll be an hour cleaning it up enough so the stage can get through. He says some of the passengers are helping to clear the mess.”

Scott nodded. Of course his brother would. Unsure what to do next, he looked vaguely around. “Well,” he said, “maybe I should go help.”

“Listen, by the time you get there they’ll already be done. You want to get something to eat, too? “


“No thanks, I just ate.”

“Well, then you should just wait right here. That way you’ll be here when they roll in.”

“Yes . . . I suppose so.” Mildly piqued, Scott spent a moment absently watching the stationmaster return to his desk duties. He was bored, had already eaten lunch, and had no desire to drink at this time of the day. He had nothing to read and noticed a paperback dime novel resting on a chair. Making the momentous decision to wait there until the stage arrived, Scott sat down and picked up the book.

The name of the book was HEROES OF THE WEST, and it was by an unknown author. How droll, he thought. Nothing but an adventure story for the common man.

He put it aside and settled down. Then he sat up straighter. Then he stood. He sat down again. He tapped his fingers. He crossed his legs. He uncrossed his legs. He stood.  He sat. He slouched. He sat up straight again. He . . .

Oh what the hell! he thought.

He picked up the book again and paged quickly through it. A collection of stories about the very West where he had chosen to spend his life. Probably ridiculous adventure stories about impossible exploits and fictitious heroes. But this is a well-worn, well-loved book, he surmised, realizing how dirty and dog-eared the pages were. The level of the writing seemed to be geared to boys. Oh, well, thought Scott. I was a boy once. He nestled down in the chair and got comfortable.

It’s only for an hour, he thought as he absently scanned the Contents Page. Chapter headings with such names as “The Settlers,” “The Gold Seekers,” “The Lawmen,” and “The Bandits” had little significance for him, but when he noticed there was a chapter entitled “The Gunfighters,” he became mildly interested. Aware that his brother Johnny intimately knew gunfighting in his former life, Scott decided to skim the chapter. There were several sub-headings with the names of famous gunfighters of the past and present. He was surprised that he actually recognized some of the names: Wyatt Earp (the phrase “also refer to section entitled ‘The Lawmen’ for more information on Earp” made Scott laugh), John Wesley Hardin (“fine precision with the quick draw, the spin, the rolls, pinwheeling . . .“ Scott recalled Johnny using words like that occasionally in description of his former profession), Dallas Stoudenmire (“short-tempered and an accurate shot with both hands”), ‘Wild Bill’ Longley (“two-gun fast draw expert”), ‘Curly Bill’ Brocius (the phrase “capable of shooting coins from between people’s fingers” made Scott snicker), and ‘Wild Bill Hickok’ Way too many gunfighting Bills! (“Hickok used a brace of silver pistols which he kept in his belt and drew in reverse cavalry fashion.” Cavalry!)

And then he saw it.  “Johnny Madrid.” Scott’s breath caught in his throat as he realized there was a portion of a book devoted to his brother! His brother! The gunfighter!

With nervous fingers he scanned quickly through the pages until he came to this sub-chapter heading. Determined to read every word, he was angry with himself for skimming quickly through the paragraphs. Slow down, slow down, he thought. He forced himself to return to the beginning and start over. It was about his cherished brother, after all, so he wanted to absorb every word. He took a deep breath in an attempt to slow his racing heart and started reading.

Johnny Madrid. Of mixed descent, Mexican mother and Californian father, although the exact details of his early upbringing are vague. He stands tall and straight, looking every inch the gunfighter. Soft-spoken, calm, cool, and even affable, he is slow to anger and has a generally forgiving nature. He has been known to befriend men on both sides of the law but has never been known to work outside the law himself. Many attest to his generosity and loyalty (refer to third paragraph). His appearance is unique - he has black hair and striking blue eyes; the latter are said to throw fear into his enemies even before he faces them with a gun. And when he does face them, make no mistake – he is lightning fast, both head-on and shooting from the hip in a pivot position. Only witnesses can attest to this; no one he has faced has lived to tell about it. The number of men he has killed is unknown as he has worked both sides of the border. But all witnesses agree that his gunfights have without exception been fair.

“A notoriously fast and accurate gunfighter, deadly to his enemies. In the cases of most gunfighters we have seen that their description begins and ends with these words. But is this the only side to Johnny Madrid?

“If there is such a thing as a Robin Hood among gunfighters, Madrid would exemplify it. Although born in America, he was raised in squalor conditions in Mexico and it is generally believed that this is the reason he often donates much of his earnings as a hired gun to churches and orphanages. It is, of course, possible that he has done this to bring relief to his troubled soul, but this seems unlikely: the last known sighting of Madrid was in Mexico as he was scheduled to be executed by firing squad for assisting Mexican peasants plotting revolt. It is rumored that Madrid escaped the execution and his whereabouts have since been unknown.

“Johnny Madrid, if you are still out there somewhere, our hats are off to you for your ability to bring a particle of honor to the term ‘gunfighter.’”

That’s all? That’s all? Scott skimmed the next few paragraphs, but they had nothing to do with Johnny. Slowly Scott laid the book on his lap. He thought about how he had just been reading about his brother in a dime novel. His gunfighter brother. With the heart of gold. Scott was proud of his brother, certainly not embarrassed by his past. Johnny had told him so little of his life as a gunhawk. And yet he had never attempted to hide it; instead he had always just acted as if the greatest thing in the world was to be a Lancer. And Scott knew that Johnny genuinely felt that way – they both did. Having Johnny Madrid as a brother had always been an honor. But what was the Robin Hood thing about? Had Johnny in fact really given away the bulk of his earnings? Certainly he had never mentioned it, but would he? Scott wondered if this was just another inaccurate portrayal for the purpose of selling dime novels. Either way, it made for good reading. And, he thought hesitantly, it might have been true!

Scott sighed happily and leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. He allowed his mind to wander. His thoughts were mostly of the good times he and Johnny and their father Murdoch had shared.

He was deep in thought and did not realize that anyone else was in the room until he heard a voice next to him.

“Hey, mister, can I have my book back?”

Startled, Scott opened his eyes and saw a man and a woman sitting across from him. A boy, maybe nine years old, was sitting next to him and was the one who had spoken.

“Uh, yes. I was reading it. This is yours?” He smiled and handed the book back to the boy. “Thank you for leaving it here when you went to the restaurant. It helped to pass the time.”

“My name’s Jackie!” The boy grinned ear to ear and held out his hand.

Scott gently shook the boy’s hand and said, “I’m Scott.”

“Did you like it?” Jackie was obviously very eager to get Scott’s opinion. Scott glanced over at the boy’s parents, who smiled at him and turned back to their own conversation.

He nodded. “Yes, I liked it very much!”

“What part did you like best? I bet it was the gunfighters! That’s my favorite part! Man oh man, all these guys sure are a tough bunch!”

“I’m sorry?”

The boy quickly waved the book past Scott’s face. “This book! It’s all about cowboys, and hanging judges, and land grabbers, and desperados. And gunfighters! Man, what a bunch! They’re all so brave!”

Scott chuckled. “Oh, I see. Have you read other books of this nature before?”

“Sure. But this is the best one. I like the gunfighters the best. You know, some of them are good guys and some of them are bad guys, but I think they’re all good guys at heart.”

Scott chuckled again. “Is that right?”

“Oh, sure! I bet all this stuff really happened, too! I mean, I saw a gunfight myself once! For real! At my old town. It wasn’t quite as much fun as the book thinks, though.” He looked crestfallen for a moment. “Both men were pretty slow, and they both got shot, but only grazed. Not like in the book!” He smiled widely as he once again waved the book. “I’ll bet you’ve never seen a gunfighter!”

“Well, actually, I have,” Scott said coyly.

The boy narrowed his eyes. “Aw, come on, you’re funning me.” Disbelief was obvious on his face until a profound thought occurred to him. “Are you a gunfighter?!”

Scott choked for a second. “Uh, no, hardly . . .”

“We’re going north to our new home when the stage gets here. The stage man said it would be any minute. Are you going to ride with us?” Jackie asked hopefully.

For a moment, Scott almost wished he could. The boy’s exuberance was contagious. But this thought only lasted a second. Scott was anxious to be reunited with his family. “No, actually. I’m here to meet my brother. He’s getting off when you get on.”

“Oh.” The boy’s dejection only lasted a moment. “Do you really know a gunfighter? An honest-to-goodness gunfighter? Don’t fun me now!”

Scott smiled. “I’m not funning you. I really know an honest-to-goodness gunfighter. But he retired from it. He’s just a regular guy now. Just like you or me.” He realized with a glance that he had the attention of the parents as well as the boy. But the parents were interested for a different reason.

“Don’t bother the gentleman, Jackie,” said the father.

“But, pa! Scott knows a gunfighter!”

“Jackie! Behave!”

Noticing how his new friend’s enthusiasm sank, Scott said, “He’s not bothering . . . “ But his speech was interrupted by the stationmaster, who announced, “Gather your things. Stage coming in now!”

The parents stood and carried their luggage outside. The mother looked back at her son and called him to her.

Before leaving, the boy shrugged. “You can have the book, Scott, if you want. It sure is fun.”

“No, you keep it,” Scott said with a smile. “It means a lot to you.”

Suddenly the boy turned back to him. “You haven’t really met a gunfighter, have you?!”

Scott smiled. He liked this boy. “I said I did, didn’t I?”

“Who?”

“I think he said his name was Johnny Madrid.”

“Johnny Madrid?! He’s the very best!”

Scott chuckled at this description of his brother.

Misunderstanding, the boy suddenly was dejected. “Aw, you’re funning me again!”

At that moment, the stage pulled up. The driver was dirty and yelled, “Sorry we’re late, folks!” A couple passengers stepped out and then Johnny got out and Scott was delighted to see him. The brothers shook hands and exchanged a bit of small talk as the family’s luggage was being loaded on the top of the coach. Johnny smiled at the woman as he helped her step inside. The father followed and they beckoned for their son to board.

“It was very nice meeting you, Jackie,” said Scott.

Jackie gave him a friendly smile. “I liked meeting you too, Scott. Even though you were funning me!” He entered the coach and sat by the window.

“Uh, Jackie? Before you go, I’d like you to meet someone.” Scott grabbed Johnny’s shoulders and pulled him close to the coach. “Johnny, this is Jackie.” The boy and the man courteously shook hands through the window. “And, Jackie, this is my brother - Johnny Madrid!”

Jackie’s eyes got as big as saucers and his mouth dropped open. “Johnny . . . Madrid!” He unconsciously tightened his grip.

Johnny had no idea why he was being introduced to this boy but played it cool as always. He nodded slightly and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jackie.”

The boy was clutching his gun hand and Johnny had to physically remove the grip with his other hand as the stage started pulling away. He asked his brother, “What was that all about, Boston?”

They continued to watch Jackie’s astonished face as the stage got further away. “It’s a long story, brother, and I have the feeling you’ve heard it before.” Scott chuckled as the two of them heard Jackie’s faint voice calling from the distance, “Johnny Madrid! Robin Hood!”

“Robin . . .?” Johnny turned to his brother. “Uh . . . Scott?”

Scott put his arm around Johnny’s shoulders. “On second thought, Rob . . . I mean Johnny – maybe you haven’t heard it before!

 

 

~ end ~

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