I’ve been in love with this kid, Johnny Bravo, since he rustled some goats and sold them for cabrito across the border in Mexico in my book Lawless. Lawless is one of two stories I wrote about Colton and Diego, hard-headed and difficult men who were always screwing and screwing up. Johnny Bravo was something else again, and he’s been sitting in the back of my mind, patiently waiting his turn. When I wrote his story, The Legend of the Apache Kid, he surprised me for being smarter than I remembered when I first met him at age 16. The scene below is from Lawless, when Johnny first makes his appearance.

Late afternoon in Arizona, and the light turned the landscape a strange, brilliant gold, making the tumbled sandstone and scrubby brush beautiful just for a moment. Colton was feeling the light warm his face, happy to be in this peaceful valley with Diego, who was finally in a good mood. He’d taken all the tags off Samuel’s new clothes, folded them and put them in the trailer, drank a beer and made burger patties, studied the goat in the pen and sat on the porch steps, watching Colton wrestle with the barbeque pit.
Colton nearly singed his eyebrows off with an excess of lighter fluid when he lit the charcoal, but then he sat down next to Diego on the steps, felt his warm thigh snug against his. Diego handed him a beer and they sat together in the golden afternoon light. This was good. They were okay.
“You’re the one gets happy when you go shopping, not me. You’ve been happy since you bought that monster barbeque pit.”
‘Well, we’ll see the proof in the burgers, if the pit is as good as the old man’s barbeque pits. I’ll tell you what I think. I think you bought enough new clothes for two boys. You just guessing they’re the same size?” Diego nodded, and Colton reached for his thigh, ran his hand up and down, let it rest on his knee. “Some days I wish we could just stay out here. This seems a peaceful life, but ranching is hard. A hard life. At least it was for my granddad. Seemed like things were always on the edge of disaster.”
“That’s the truth of it.” Old man Weaver was behind them on his sofa. “One bad storm, one bad infection in the herd, and your taxes for that year are gone. Long as I’ve been working this land, I never really got ahead. I think the best I can say is I wrestled it to a draw. That’s not bad, for a lifetime’s work.”
“No, it’s not.” Diego was quiet, his face thoughtful. Colton knew he had plans for his life that included doing more than wrestling his world to a draw. But what control did they really have? Maybe not as much as they thought they did, when they were young as Samuel.
“It’s worth the hard work,” Samuel said. “See how beautiful this land is, Colton?” Samuel gestured toward the mountains, where the little valley opened up. “I just want to get to know land like this. To learn it in all the seasons. To find a way to take care of it, and let it take care of me. That’s the best life, I think.”
Colton turned around and looked at Joshua, who was leaned back on his sofa, rocking a little. Joshua nodded his head. Colton could see it in his face. This boy, Samuel, he was a man like them, a man with a passion for the land.
Diego stood up, went to the barbeque pit and stared down. “How can you tell if the coals are ready?”
Colton stood up and studied the coals. “They’re ready when somebody wants to put their beer down and throw the burgers on, Big D. I would say right about now.”
Diego put the burgers on the grill, stood over them with a spatula while the smell of cooking beef spread out across the valley. Colton looked around. “Now, Samuel, this is a fine idea, but don’t get discouraged if he don’t come in tonight. We can always go look in the mine in the morning.”
Samuel shook his head. “He’s not in the mine. He’s with his horse, and he wouldn’t put the horse down there.”
“Colton.” Diego gestured with his chin. The boy was walking in from the east, leading his horse, the setting sun full on his face. He looked like something out of an old western movie, dusty jeans, long, black hair spilling over his shoulder, leading a beautiful horse the color of caramel, with a soft ivory mane.
“Joshua, this your boy?”
Joshua struggled up from the sofa, looked hard across the pasture to where the boy was walking in. “Yeah, that’s him. Where the hell’s he been?”
“The hot springs are up that way.” Samuel blushed when Colton turned and studied his face. “I just thought... that might be where I would camp out, if I had to camp somewhere on the ranch. And I did see some tracks up there. I left him a note, you know, just in case, telling him we were having burgers if he wanted to join us.”
Diego was grinning. “You did good, Samuel. Well, Mr. Weaver, he looks just like you described him.”
Johnny Bravo gave them all a nod and bypassed the group without a word, leading his horse back to the stable. Samuel walked back and joined him. Colton studied his retreating back, then turned to look at Diego. “Why do I get the feeling Samuel...”
Diego shook his head, flipped the burgers. “Leave it, Colton. Let him settle a bit first.”
“He looks Apache. You think a face like that belongs on one of those old timey photographs, those sepia-colored pictures from 1870, buckskins and Navajo saddle blankets on the horses and a boy with that proud face.”
“He’s too proud,” Joshua said. “That kind of pride just leads to trouble.”
“He’s just sixteen. He needs some work to do, settle him a bit. You think he’s a ranchman, like you?”
The old man shook his head. “I don’t know. I can’t recall I ever met a dreamer knew how to do a lick of real work.”
Johnny and Samuel came back from the stables, and Johnny climbed the steps up to the porch and stood in front of Joshua, his arms crossed over his chest and his chin nearly pointing at the sky. They stared at each other for a long moment, and Colton was reminded that Joshua had known this boy since he was born.
“Go throw your stuff in the house if you want.”
“Samuel said there’s another bunk in the horse trailer. I’ll stay out there.”
“Fine. Do whatever you want.” Joshua reached for the bottle next to his foot, just came up with tropical fruit juice. “Goddamnit! Where’s my whiskey?”
Johnny turned and marched back down the porch steps. He held out his hand to Colton. “I’m Johnny Bravo. I heard you were looking for me.”
Colton shook his hand. “I’m the law, if that’s what you mean. And I was investigating a crime and your name came up.”
Johnny looked surprised at his tough voice. He looked over at Samuel, then straightened his back and faced Colton again.
Colton nodded down at him. “In the old westerns, we used to call it cattle rustling, like it was something romantic. Nowadays we call it grand theft. And if you do it again I am going to throw your sorry ass in jail. I don’t care your reason for doing it. Do you understand me, Johnny?”
“Yes.” He was speaking through clenched teeth. Colton looked over at Diego. Oh, very proud.
Johnny was holding his hand out to Diego now, obviously hoping for a warmer welcome. “I’m Diego Del Rio. I hope you’re hungry, Johnny. I put three burgers on the grill for you.”
Johnny looked over the food. “I could eat three burgers.”
Colton felt a bit irritated that he had been so worried about this kid, and he came strolling in with his horse, ready for supper. No blood, no wounds, he didn’t look tired or miserable or in any way needing to be rescued. He wasn’t even very dirty. Samuel must have been right, and Johnny was camping at the hot springs. Weaver seemed to share Colton’s feelings of irritation, and Johnny, with perfect teenage intuition, stayed very far away from them both, tucked up safely between Diego and Samuel.
Colton listened in while Diego got Johnny talking. “A film maker? That’s interesting, Johnny. What kind of films?”
“Westerns. I want to make films that tell the truth about how things are in the West. How things really are for Natives, and for Mexicans. And for the people who live on the land, like him.” He gestured toward Joshua on the porch. “It’s deadly out here, but people don’t see. And it’s been exploited so much, the minerals, the uranium. I think it’ll take a Native filmmaker to tell the truth about this place. You want to see some film?”
“I sure would.”
Diego was being so nurturing and kind, Colton made a gagging gesture, a finger down his throat. Diego ignored him. Johnny climbed up the porch steps and stopped in front of Joshua again. “Can I borrow the TV? I can hook a cable up from my video camera and show you some of the footage I’ve been shooting.”
Joshua waved a hand. “Sure, boy. You go on ahead.”
Johnny ran out to the horse trailer, got his video camera from the backpack he’d tossed in there earlier. He went up the steps and into the house, and a minute later he was back out on the porch, standing in front of Joshua. “You don’t have a TV.”
Joshua rubbed his chin. “Well, now, let me think. You know, I meant to buy a TV. I was thinking about selling a calf and buying one down at the Sears and Roebuck. But then something happened. You stole that calf, so I couldn’t sell him.”
They stared at each other for another long moment. Johnny’s cheeks were flushed red, but Colton didn’t know if it was mad or sorry. Joshua looked like he was thinking about breaking into tears, he was hurt so bad. Johnny dropped down to one knee in front of the old man. “I’m sorry I stole your cows and goats.”
“That’s all you had to say, boy. I was just waiting for you to say it like you meant it.”
“I mean it.” Johnny had his face turned a bit away, studying the dusty porch. “I bought the video camera with some of the money, and I bought some food, but I have the rest.”
“You can turn it over, then. We gonna live together, we got to have straight dealing between us, you understand? Otherwise this won’t work.”
“I’m not living with you if you’re gonna drink yourself into a stupor every night.”
“What the hell’s a stupor?” Joshua waved this away. “Never mind. I know what you mean.” He gestured toward Diego with his chin. “My doctor has got me on fruit juice.

Lawless on Kindle http://tinyurl.com/d378ulv

The Legend of the Apache Kid, coming in September from Dreamspinner Press
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Published on August 03, 2012 15:29 • 284 views • Tags: lawless, sarah-black, the-legend-of-the-apache-kid
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I bet I'll like him just as much this time around. And now September isn't that far away anymore. Yay!

message 2: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Black I'm really excited- Paul Richmond did an awesome cover. Have you ever seen a pic of the real Apache Kid? (So handsome!) I'll see if I can find a link

message 3: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Black Suze wrote: "Can't wait. I really loved the all characters in this series, even the minor ones like the Juans and the cousins. Happy to have more."

Those little Juans and their mommies- sometimes I think I wrote that ranch to have a safe place for them to live, and hide out from a world that has gotten too mean. I still think they're out there taking care of each other.

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Sarah wrote: "I'm really excited- Paul Richmond did an awesome cover. Have you ever seen a pic of the real Apache Kid? (So handsome!) I'll see if I can find a link"

I Googled him! Yes, he was very handsome, but such sad eyes.

message 5: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Black oceankitty wrote: "Sarah wrote: "I'm really excited- Paul Richmond did an awesome cover. Have you ever seen a pic of the real Apache Kid? (So handsome!) I'll see if I can find a link"

I Googled him! Yes, he was very..."

There were probably a lot of Apache with sad eyes about 1887. I keep thinking up happy endings for him, though.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Have you read Marie Sexton's Oestend books? They are a strange mix of the old west and fantasy, making strong references to the fate of the Native Americans. In Marie's books the natives set out to get their revenge in a very subtle and bloodcurdling way. Highly recommended. Not to distract you from writing or anything. *g* Just sayin'

message 7: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Black They sound good- I'll have to check them out.

One of the Navajo ladies I worked with, she had seven kids, and each of her children had seven kids. She always had a baby on her hip. I asked her once, what was with all the babies? She just laughed and said that's how the Navajo were taking back the country!

I read a book today about the Native warriors experience in Iraq, and the reporter asked how come they were fighting for a country that tried to slaughter their people? One man said they were fighting for their homeland, the land where their families and tribe lived, just like they had always done. The job of the warriors was to protect the people and the land, and they were honored by the tribe.
And besides, they were never really defeated, just tricked. Which is a totally different thing.

message 8: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 05, 2012 03:06AM) (new)

That's just fantastic! I hope all her grandchildren have seven children each, too!

What great and magnanimous hearts those warriors have. And I agree; they were tricked. It was a humongous culture crash (without that being an excuse of course). There were so many dreams involved on the side of the "whites", and then so much outright greed, I think nothing could have stopped them in the end. Did you know almost a million Norwegians emigrated and settled in the US? And that was just from our tiny little country. Their dream? To go west and start a farm where they could settle and create something for their children. Chasing away a few "savages" was just one of the hurdles they had to overcome. It makes me sad and ashamed to think about it.

message 9: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Black when people are an abstract idea, like wild red savages, it's easier to dismiss them, or hunt them down like dogs- when we get to know each other, we realize how alike we are.

People are always so much more interesting when you get to know them, rather than depending on your initial impressions and the things you've heard, and the newspapers back then played up every gruesome scalping and burned homestead. I would have been scared, too! I might very well have fainted in shock (or something) if a Comanche rode in on his horse with no shirt and a buffalo head mask on the top of his head. My mother grew up in Texas, and they were still telling stories about what the Comanche did to white women when she was a girl. I think those stories resonate forever. I grew up in the sixties and the stories I heard about the Indians were considerably different.

It seems like the major barrier we have now is the distrust that still remains strong. When I first moved to the reservation, people saw me as white, not as a woman, and assumed I was there to pass judgment on them. Over time we got to know each other, and they taught my son and I took care of their sons in the clinic. And then it seemed we were just women together. (Being tortured by our knuckleheaded sons).

The men were always formal and protective and kept their distance- once when my dad and mom came out to visit me, we had a pot luck and one of the Navajo men I barely knew told my dad not to worry, they were looking out for me. I was forty at the time!

But I understand the dream of those Norweigan farmers- I just bought some land in Fiji- I hope over time it doesn't seem like I'm stealing land for a song from people who don't have anything else to sell. But I just want a little piece of land all my own, to grow food for my family--and doesn't that sound familiar?

message 10: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow! Fiji sounds about as close to paradise as one could possibly get. I'm green with envy....

I can understand the distrust. And you are so right about getting to know each other. We humans tend to "clump" together according to ethnicity no matter where we come from, and only the bravest of us try to reach across the barriers to learn and share. Which is sad, because we have so much to learn from each other.

message 11: by Z.A. (new)

Z.A. Maxfield I loved Lawless. I loved Colton and Diego. I love everything you write and I can not wait for this!

message 12: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Black Z.A. wrote: "I loved Lawless. I loved Colton and Diego. I love everything you write and I can not wait for this!"

oh, that's so nice to hear! It's going to be out Sept 5- the day before I leave for Fiji! I think that's a very good sign.

message 13: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Black what a great article! The wonderful quiet of the place and the people cannot be overstated- it really seeps down into your soul until you yearn for the quiet whenever you're gone.

I've always loved Colton and Diego- they are living life large, in brilliant color! In the first story, Fearless, I took that trip I sent them on down into Mexico through Ajo and Gringo Pass on the border- then my kid and I took a bus down and roamed around. On the trip back up, my kid sat on the floor at the bus station with a little boy who was there with his father and they read a Batman comic book together- you can read comics without a common language, I guess, because they both laughed at the same time, even though the other boy only spoke Spanish and mine only English.

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Awww. I have to re-read these books now. They were among the first M/M books I read waaaaay back when I first discovered the genre. In other words not so long ago. But there have been a lot of reading between then and now and although your books are among the unforgettable ( I have all my favorites stored in my ereader.) they deserve to be read more than once.

message 15: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Black what always surprised me about these characters was they were screwing left and right- I don't usually write stories with a lot of sex, but these two nuts, Colton and Diego, I mean, they were just wild for each other- it was totally out of my hands!

message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

*LOL* They just galloped ahead of you, did they? Makes them all the more believable to me. When I went to LA I had to go see the Walk of Fame. It irked me that they had given Shrek a star (among others) because he's not really real is he? But after mulling over it a bit I realized that he is real enough; he is after all imprinted on the minds of millions of people, not to mention the people who worked so hard to create him. Who am I to say Shrek doesn't deserve a star? All my favorite characters are alive to me. They feel like friends even though I only get to know them through someone else's willingness to share their hard work and creativity.

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