Toby Christenson was huge. Just no way else to describe him. He spent most of his time working on his daddy's farm, plowing, seeding, harvesting, and caring for the livestock. All those things, plus his parents genes, had contributed to making a manof size and substance. Unfortunately, none of those things had contributed a whole lot to making a man of much worth.
He was abrasive, obnoxious, and generally thought himself to be a step above anyone else living in Four Corners. He didnt have much use for the seven regulators who protected the town, probably because, due to his imposing nature, Tobe had never had much need for protecting himself. While he didn't like any of the seven men, most of his animosity was reserved for Vin Tanner.
He never missed a chance to harass Vin. His hair, his silence, his reserved nature, it all irritated Toby. Toby avoided Chris Larabee, and pretty much ignored the others, but something about Vin seemed to antagonize him. Maybe it was that Vin preferred not to become embroiled in any argument with Toby. While Toby thought it was because Vin was afraid of him, the truth was, Vin just didn't see much use wasting his time arguing or fighting with Christensen. They both knew it would come to a head someday, but neither of them knew how it would end. Then, one day, because he knew Vin thought a lot of her, Toby decided to pick on Nettie Wells.
"Damned ole woman, you oughta sell your stake to my pa so's it can be worked proper. You ain't never gonna make a go of it, ya know." Toby towered over Nettie, and looked straight into her eyes in a threatening way as he spoke.
"Toby Christensen, get outta my way. I ain't gonna sell nothin to you or your pa, so you'd best keep your mouth shut. I'll make darn sure you don't get it after I'm dead, too. Casey, come on." Nettie stepped toward the door to Potter's store, but Toby's large bulk blocked the way.
"Ma'am, you'd best be more neighborly to me. You might need our help one day."
"Get outta my way," she repeated. "I been threatened a'fore from more man than you, boy."
Vin had seen Toby headed toward Nettie from across the street, and he pretty much knew things were coming to fruition. He moved easily across the street to her side. Now Toby towered over the both of them.
"Damn, you're a big son of a bitch, aincha, Tobe?" Vin's blue eyes settled menacingly onto Toby's.
"Watch your language, son," Nettie admonished.
Vin smiled. "Just tellin' it like I see it."
"You're gonna be seein' it from the ground if you don't treat me like a gentleman."
Vin had to laugh at that. "When I see a gentleman, I'll treat him like one. What I'm lookin' at ain't no such thing. Nettie?" He turned to her and stepped between Toby and Nettie, pressing his side up to Toby's and giving her enough room to pass by. She paused briefly, and shook her head in warning, but he shrugged back at her. She knew, too, and sighed.
Toby had never been bested in a fight in his life. Vin had, many times. He was tough, but he wasn't terribly big. And he knew, sometimes might did make right. If not right, at least it left standing.
Toby drew one meaty forearm back and knocked Vin aside and down; he rolled back to his feet and lowered his head like buffalo, ramming Toby in the stomach. From somewhere behind him, Vin heard JD yell for Chris before he went down from another punch from the bigger man.
Nettie was yelling, holding onto Casey, who was threatening to jump into the fray. When Chris arrived, he watched as Vin got in several quick right-handed hits while Toby just picked him up and dropped him to the ground. Chris' initial reaction was to put a halt to this before his friend went down for good, but something made him wait. And while JD and Buck admonished Chris for not stopping it, Vin went on landing every punch he could, at any opportunity, to any part of Toby Christensen's body he could reach.
It was a busy morning in town, and many people gathered outside to watch. While none of them had any doubts about Toby's ability to whip Tanner, they enjoyed watching Vin land a good hit here and there. Ezra grabbed JD's bowler off his head and began to wave it around, gathering bets from the men gathered there. Plenty of people dropped their coins into the hat. Chris, trying to decide how far to let this go, was furious.
"You gonna take bets on your dying, too, Ezra?" he said angrily.
"Only if it was a sure thing, Mr Larabee," Ezra tossed back.
Chris was too concerned about Vin to stop Ezra. He was wondering where Buck was, when Nathan and Josiah showed up. He shot a concerned look to them, but Josiah knew how Vin felt about fighting his own battles too, and he figured it was just as well they hung around to pick up the pieces; Vin might just turn on them. Then, just a little bit, it looked like Vin might be getting the upper hand. Toby was slowing down. It couldn't be . . . and yet, Toby looked like he was wearing down. Years of sleeping with one eye open, of looking behind him, of living for the moment, had given Vin Tanner the ability to ignore pain and loss, and to continue to fight when a lesser man would have given up. That was what Chris had seen in him that had stopped him from intervening. While Chris didn't really think Vin could beat Toby Christensen in a fair fight (without a gun, anyway) he knew Vin would want to give it his best. And given the same circumstances, Chris would want--no, demand-- the same respect afforded to him.
And then, losing his breath and staggering backward, Toby hit his head on the boardwalk behind him. From the ground, he raised his head and looked appraisingly at Tanner, before he closed his eyes and dropped his head back to the ground.
Vin had somehow gotten to his feet and stood over Christensen. He swayed to and fro, looking through one bruised and battered eye, then turning to look through the other, as if he, himself, couldnt quite believe Tobe was down and staying down.
The onlookers were silent, too, in disbelief. Vin staggered a few feet away from Christensen and raised his arms over his head in victory. It took a lot of effort, though, and he nearly lost his feet. Josiah wrapped one protective arm around him to hold him up. Vin grinned triumphantly at Chris, who shook his head.
"Wouldn'ta believed it pard, if I hadn't been here."
"Me neither, cowboy," Vin coughed out.
Ezra stepped towards him.
"Sorry, Ezra, guess you lost a bundle, huh?" he gasped.
"On the contrary, Mr Tanner, my money was on you." Ezra smiled so broadly his gold tooth shone in the sun, and he shook the bowler as it rattled with silver coins.
Vin, Chris, JD, Josiah, and Nathan all stared at him in sudden understanding of the wager Ezra had placed.
This time it was Vin whose face lit up with the smile there, before he crumpled at Ezra's feet.
His friends had attempted to take Vin to Nathan's room, but he had come around when they lifted him up and refused to go. He wanted to go to the saloon and celebrate. After one shot, his head tipped foreward onto the table and didn"t rise again.
Josiah and Nathan each took one arm and between them dragged Vin towards the door. Chris nodded his appreciation and made his way to Ezra's table.
When he finished his hand, Ezra turned to Chris, waiting for him to speak.
"Why'd you bet on him, Ezra?"
"Because I saw something you did not, Mr Larabee. I saw a man who chooses his fights carefully. Vin Tanner does not take on an adversary lightly."
Chris nodded and gained a new respect for this surprising man before him. He turned to leave, when Ezra spoke again.
"Mr Larabee, I suggest you remember that in your battles with the demons you carry."
"Mr, Tanner does choose his fights carefully," he repeated. "He does not do battle when he does not expect to win." And he pushed one single silver coin across the table at Chris Larabee, who picked it up and placed it in his pocket for safekeeping.
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