DISCLAIMER: I do not own nor do I profit in any way from the characters of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. They belong to Trilogy, MGM, Mirisch, CBS and now TNN. However I would like to state that I do not wish my original characters borrowed without my knowledge or consent. If you are not certain a character is canon or mine, I will be happy to let you know. Just ask or look at my list of original characters.
References are made to the episodes "Safecracker" and "The Collector".
RATING: PG 13
I would like to thank
Judy, Paula, and Wen for beta reading this. This fanfic is written and
dedicated to the lady who suggested it. Yes, this is all Adrianís fault.
She pointed out that I just summarized the events before "Telegram". So,
if you donít like this, complain to Adrian. If you do like it, tell me.
It was Thursday afternoon, and the saloon was relatively quiet. Inez served lunch on weekdays, and the place was usually crowded. Today was different. An early spring rain had begun just that morning, and the dusty streets had quickly become muddy. Those who didnít have to go out preferred to remain where they were. Vin was leaning back in his chair between Chris and Ezra watching a man who had come to Four Corners the day before. He sat three tables away and had been running a poker game all morning. At first he didnít seem to have much luck, which brought several more men from Ezraís table until only Vin, Chris, and Ezra were left. Now the popular gambler was beginning to win, and Vin looked over to see Ezra watching the man over his cards all the while seeming indifferent to anyone or anything but the men sitting with him. Catching Vinís eye, Chris nodded. Sometimes words were unnecessary between friends.
"Heís cheatiní, ainít he." It wasnít a question so much as it was a statement of fact. Vin had seen Ezra do this all before. Appearing to be on the down side of lady luck, Ezra would begin a game with lucrative businessmen. Lulling the men into thinking he was only a moderately skilled gambler, Ezra would come out the eventual winner. However, Vin had watched Ezra and knew that the Southern gambler was too good at what he did to cheat. Ezra would con his marks by subtly playing poorly and then gradually increase his skill, as the men became bolder in their greed. This other man did not have the Southernerís finesse; therefore, he had resorted to cheating. Vin offered a lazy smile to Ezra as much in acknowledgment of his gambling skills as well as the new word Vin had added to his vocabulary. Finesse was a word that suited the gambler.
"He is not only cheating, Mr. Tanner," Ezra looked over at the former bounty hunter with a gleam in his green eyes.
"Heís cheatiní badly." Chris finished the statement for him.
"That he is." Ezra knew the tracker and the man in black were excellent judges of character, but that they could tell the man was cheating from three tables away made Ezra think even more of the men sitting next to him.
Chris had a precision honed sense of survival that gave him the uncanny ability to spot potential trouble before it started. Even though he was a good ten years younger, Vin Tanner had the same ability. Years spent surviving as a bounty hunter and then a wanted man, Tanner was just as quick to assess any situation. However, both men didnít gamble as a profession. As long as the game appeared honest, neither one really bothered with the gambling in the saloon, trusting Ezra not to let things get out of hand. Today, Ezraís influence could be seen as both men took in the activity at the rather ordinary looking gamblerís table. His constant losses swiftly changing until he was winning increasingly large amounts of money had peaked their interests. The man was really better than most at actually cheating at cards. It was his poor timing and lack of subtly Ezra thought absolutely deplorable. That was why he was surprised that both Vin and Chris had picked up on it. Maude, Ezraís mother, might even be impressed at their accurate assessment of the situation, well maybe not.
In a profession like his where reading peopleís character was of paramount importance, Ezra would just have to remember that the quiet men next to him didnít always match up to the way they dressed and acted. Most people thought Vin Tanner was just a quiet, unassuming man who preferred his own company and the wilderness even more. Even more were either too afraid to tackle the enigma known as Chris Larabee, or they thought he was just another hardened gunfighter. Only their friends knew that behind that quiet, almost disinterested demeanor and the icy but intense brooding were two men who let little slip past them. Chris and Vin were as good at judging people as Ezra was. Tanner also had a wry sense of humor that appeared at the oddest times but always managed to garner a matching response from his friends, especially Chris Larabee on whom he had a calming influence.
Ezra would never have dreamed of even approaching Larabee when they first met, not that he was afraid of Larabee. The gambler just assumed that the quietly complex gunslinger had a death wish that Ezra didnít want to share. After seven months of working with him, Ezra had discovered that Chris was a man who respected life intensely. That was why the tragic loss of his family affected Chris so much. Larabee had too much respect for life to really let it go even though his joy in life had ended with the deaths of his wife and son. It had taken three years and seven months of dancing with death, six men, a town in need, and a widowed woman and her son to bring Larabee back from the precipice he had been living on for so long.
Then there was Vin Tanner. The man was a veritable Robin Hood. Give him a person in need, in danger, afraid of someone or something, and the man would put himself between danger and the prospective victim.
Larabeeís second in command, Tanner was a man Ezra liked in spite of himself. Totally different but alike in so many ways, the two men had settled into a sparring relationship that kept both men on their toes. Buck especially enjoyed the little barbs they traded. It had an edge to it unlike the affectionate sparring Buck used to teach JD how to survive in the West.
Ezra often thought that the combination of Vinís ability to assess a personís character accurately and almost instantaneously along with his very fertile mind, Vin Tanner would have made a formidable con man. He had even heard his mother remark that if Tanner would cut his hair and follow Ezraís example of speech and dress, the trackerís looks and shy quietness would make him a valuable partner. She could even envision using Vin as he currently was. Ezra liked Vin and had decided upon hearing his motherís opinion that he would do his best to keep Maude and Vin separated. Ezra had been used before by his mother too many times to know how it felt to play second fiddle to a con. There was no way he would subject someone he liked, someone he considered a friend to be used as he had by Maude.
"Shall we explain that his sort of behavior is not welcome in this town?"
"Hell, Ezra. You donít need us for this. Why bother when you can clean him out aní send him packing before anyone notices what heís doiní?"
"Then may I request your participation in relieving this man of his ill begotten gains?"
"If youíre sayiní youíre gonna teach him a lesson, count me in. Wach ya want me to do?"
"I want you to take this money, my western Robin Hood, and go join the game. Play whatever hand you get dealt." Ezra smiled as he placed fifty dollars behind Vinís right elbow that Vin had been leaning most of his weight on since he had thumped his chair closer to the table. Vin looked at the gambler before he tucked the money into the front pocket of his shirt.
"Iím not gonna owe you ten percent interest on this, am I?" Vin drawled the question as both Larabee and Standish let out little bursts of laughter acknowledging Ezraís stated aversion to loaning money to anyone unless he made a profit off of it.
Vin remembered the loan he thought he had coerced Ezra out of to save Nettie Wellsí home from Guy Royal and Ezraís demand that Vin pay him ten-percent interest. The fact that the seven had stolen the money back from Guy Royal had no impact on Ezraís conscience at all. Ezra had not lost a dime, but Tanner had never paid him the interest, either. It had become a running joke with both men. Ezra had even mentioned to Vin that the only reason he had offered to help Vin find Eli Joe was to protect his investment on the money Vin still owed him. Both men knew that Ezra would have given Nettie the money to save her home without coercion, but neither man would mention that fact out loud.
Ezra would never acknowledge that he was just as much a Robin Hood as Vin Tanner when it came to innocents being taken advantage of, and Vin thought too highly of Ezra to embarrass him by calling attention to that fact. So they teased one another mercilessly whenever an opportunity arose. Chris at first had thought trouble was brewing between the two very diverse looking men, but he soon realized that Vin and Ezra spoke around their friendship. It amused Josiah Sanchez to no end that the seven men trusted and cared about each other like family, but it would take lessons Vin learned from the Comanches before any of the seven would admit this truth aloud to anyone, especially one another.
Vin paused only long enough to catch Chrisís encouraging comment before he went over to lose Ezraís money.
"Try not to learn too much from this con artist, Vin. I donít know if this town can handle two of him." Tanner sauntered over with a grin on his face. He knew exactly what Ezra was telling the man in black.
"I resent the insinuation that I might be corrupting Mr. Tanner. I believe he was corrupted long before I ever had the honor of his acquaintance, Mr. Larabee."
Vin had reached the table and been welcomed as Ted Corey rose to leave.
"Iím out, Tanner. Take my chair." The local saddle maker left the table with a look on his face that wasnít normal for the usually affable man. Vin figured that the stranger had taken Ted for more money than he could afford. He nodded at the man and winked before he sat down and pulled out Ezraís money.
Buck and JD had wandered in just as Corey walked over to the bar and asked for a beer. The wink he had received from Tanner made him think something was going on. When he saw Ezra and Chris both do the same to him, he decided to stick around and see what happened. Suddenly, he didnít feel as depressed about his money as he had. Things just might be going his way very soon. JD started to say something to Vin, but Buck had taken one look at Chris and Ezra and pulled the kid past Vin and on to the bar. Chris non-challantly joined them at the bar as Ezra walked over to the table. Chris explained as Ezra asked to join in the game.
"I see you have room for one more. May I join in this friendly game of chance?"
"Standish, Ezra Standish. I do not believe I have the honor of your name."
"Jacob Simmons. I understand you have quite a reputation as a gambler, Mr. Standish." Simmons motioned Ezra a chair as Buck rolled his eyes when he caught Vinís attention. The tracker gave Buck a turned up corner of one lip acknowledging the fancy manners that had invaded Four Corners.
Josiah and Nathan walked in as Ezra sat down. A raised eyebrow from Josiah and a nod from Chris were all it took for the late arrivals to know something was going down right in front of them. Ezra was an artist, and the others got comfortable in order to enjoy the show. Nathan grabbed Josiahís wet jacket and hung it with his on the hook by the door before grabbing a bottle and two glasses and returning to the table Josiah had chosen that gave them a full view of the entertainment. As the game commenced once more, Chris walked over and joined Nathan and Josiah. He poured himself a drink as JD hefted himself upon the bar to get a good look. Buck grinned at the kid as he leaned against the bar next to him. Inez hooked her foot on the small stool she had behind the bar to use for the tougher to reach bottles, and stood on it behind JD. She had seen all that had been going on and was ready for Ezra to rid the saloon of the cheat.
It wasnít long before Ezra had control of the cards. The game had gotten intense as the Southern gambler took over. The other manís luck appeared to hold for a few hands, but gradually his luck began to change. Before long, Tanner was sitting there with a pile of money in front of him. As Simmonsí cash began to dwindle, the others began to win more and more. Ezraís face was the picture of innocence. It dawned on Simmons that he had met someone far better than he was, but there was no way he could accuse the gambler of cheating. Ezra was basically breaking even, and the man called Tanner was winning, but not so much that it couldnít be labeled luck or skill. Everyone at the table was doing well except Simmons and Standish. Simmons won another hand, but he noted that his pile of money was growing smaller. In fact, he had lost most of what he had cheated out of the men before Standish took over. The cheat knew he was being fleeced, he just couldnít tell how. The fact that the others at the table were satisfied with the game left him no room to maneuver. He decided that a graceful exit was to his advantage.
Simmons lost three more hands until he faced the fact that he only had half left of the four hundred dollars he had started with. He took one look at Tanner and another look at Standish. Neither of the returned looks was pleasant. Simmons then took in the other people watching his predicament with looks varying from outright glee to grim satisfaction. He saw no sympathy from the other saloon patrons and was beginning to feel desperate, but he played two more hands both of which looked like he could win. Instead, he lost twenty-five dollars to a rancher from Yuma and another twenty-five to the man called Tanner.
"Mr. Tanner?" Standishís voice pierced the growing sense of desperation Simmons was feeling. "Arenít you and Mr. Dunne supposed to meet the stage from Eagle Bend shortly?" Tanner didnít disappoint the Southerner.
"Yeah, I best fold aní go. Me aní JD were gonna meet Miz Nettie and Casey and drive Ďem home."
"It has been a while since I have had the pleasure of Mrs. and Miss Wellsí company. Might I persuade you to ask them to join us for an early dinner before you escort them home? With this weather producing all this mud, they might enjoy a respite before they venture out into it again."
"Oh, I think Miz Nettie would like that. Why donít ya come with us soís you can ask her yourself? Anyone else goiní on the stage might want to get their stuff together. Driver donít like to leave the horses standiní long in the mud."
"A very fine idea, Mr. Tanner. Gentlemen?" The others nodded their acceptance of the gameís end.
Simmons was left feeling he had somehow not only been cheated out of his money, but that he was also being warned very subtly that the stage would be leaving soon. It didnít matter. He was down to one hundred and fifty dollars. He couldnít wait to get out of this town, and he seized this opportunity like the gambler he was. Simmons had finally learned when it was time to fold. If he hurried and went out the back door of the hotel, Simmons could get on the stage before the clerk realized he had left without paying his bill. He was unaware that Ezra had counted on that and had made sure that Vin had won enough to cover the hotel bill and to repay Ted Corey. The rancher from Yuma dallied as the cheat made a swift exit. He had seen Tanner walk over to the man at the bar and count out a large sum of money. The man looked incredibly grateful as he thanked Tanner and then Standish on his way out the door. He was grinning ear to ear.
"I take it that man was cheating?"
"Mr.?" Ezra always liked to know with whom he was dealing.
"Hudson, David Hudson out of Yuma. Are you one the seven who protect this town?"
"Mr. Tanner, myself, and the other gentlemen here are indeed the seven who have that honor. And yes, that man was running a dishonest game. I detest a man who cheats, and even more a man who cheats badly."
Hudson laughed. "Would you accept this small token of my gratitude?" Hudson held out a fifty-dollar bill. When Ezra looked like he was going to refuse it, Ezra liked to confound his friendsí expectations every once in a while, Hudson insisted. "That man nearly had the deed to my ranch, and I couldnít tell how he was cheating."
Ezra looked over at Chris and Nathan. Larabee nodded yes, and Nathan grinned at Ezra. "Since you put it that way, it would be rude to refuse. It was my pleasure to assist you." He took the money, shook hands with the man, and sent another grateful man into the rain to catch the stage.
Ezra joined his friends at the bar for a drink. Vin handed him a stack of cash. Even after he had paid Ted Corey what Simmons had cheated him out of, Vin still had close to one hundred fifty dollars.
"Hereís your winninís, Ezra." Tanner smiled.
"My winnings? Mr. Tanner, are you insinuating that I was being less than honest in my dealings with Mr. Simmons, and that is the reason you won that tidy sum of money?" His gold tooth flashed as he joined in the laughter with the other six men and Inez. He counted out his fifty dollars and then the hotel bill for Simmons. The rest he gave to Vin. "I believe that these are your winnings, Mr. Tanner." He handed ninety-six dollars to the bemused tracker.
"Wooo, Vin, pard, I believe you just became my best friend." Buck slapped the tracker on the back.
"Brother Tanner, you indeed have been smiled upon this day." Josiah was trying hard not to laugh at the shocked look on Vinís face. "What do you plan to do with this largesse?"
"Uh, Ezra, this is almost a hundred dollars here. What am I supposed to do with it?"
"Well my dear friend, maybe I can interest you in an investment over dinner?"
"Hell Ezra, iffen youíre gonna con the money outta him, why bother giviní it to him in the first place?"
"Yeah, why bother in the first place?" JD was in agreement with Nathan.
"Itís called payiní your partner his share, JD. Sides, Ezra won a pretty penny of his own from that cheat if Iím readiní this situation right."
"I must admit that I did win a tidy sum from our inept Mr. Simmons, and Mr. Tanner was my partner on this endeavor. It is only fair that he receive his share. Besides since he is going to take us all to dinner tonight in honor of the Wellsí homecoming, he will need all of his money."
"Hey, you invited Ďem, why am I payiní for everyoneís dinner?"
"Now Mr. Tanner, I can not believe that you would begrudge a few dollars in order to celebrate with your friends. Inez, Mrs. Travis, and young Billy are also invited, are they not?"
Chris snorted as Vin finally gave in to the gamblerís persuasions. Shaking his head, Vin walked past everyone grumbling to himself but making certain he was loud enough for his friends to hear. "Calls me Robin Hood. Hell, he gives my money away just as fast as I get it."
Vin got as far as the door and stopped. "Well, you cominí JD?" As JD jumped off his perch to join Vin, the tracker looked back at the rest of the men and Inez. "Ezra, I guess youíd best go set up this dinner at the hotel while Chris goes and asks Mary and Billy to join us. You cominí too, Inez?"
"And miss watching Ezra spend your money? Oh I will be there as long as you promise I donít have to sit next to this one." She pointed the rag she used to wipe the glasses with at the leering scoundrel in front of her.
"Aw Inez, darliní, you know you want to sit next to old Buck."
"As much as I want to take your gun and shoot my foot with it, Senor."
JD and Vin left the saloon on that statement.
"You think Inez will ever fall for Buck, Vin?"
"Only if sheís unconscious or sufferiní from amnesia, JD. I think sheís got Buck pretty much stumped, donít you?"
"Oh yeah. Itís sure nice to know his animal magnetism donít work on all the good lookiní women."
"You got that right, JD. Look whoís in line to get on the stage." JD followed Vinís line of vision. Sure enough, Simmons was first in line for the stage. Hudson was lounging further back still enjoying his reprieve from disaster. He was one man who would stick to playing poker with his friends instead of strangers.
"I sure wish Ezra had asked me to help him. Then I couldíve bought Casey a really nice present."
Weíll just tell her that you, me, and Ezra are invitiní Ďem to a welcome home dinner. That work for you, kid?"
"Wow, thanks, Vin."
"Hell, thank Ezra. Heís the one that won me all this money." Vin looked at JD and confided in him. "It was real fun, JD. I never worked a real con like that before."
They had reached the stage by now and were waiting for Nettie and Casey to get out. As an older couple emerged, JD leaned over, touched that Vin had actually shared this with him. "Was it as much fun as gettingí Ezraís money back from Guy Royal?"
"Sure was, JD. Ezraís real slick at what he does. Makes it look downright easy, but donít you tell him I said so."
JD laughed. "You shoot too good for me to do that, Vin. Sides, this is between you aní me."
The two friends were still grinning when Nettie Wells appeared in the doorway of the stage. "You two gonna stand there grinniní like you got sense, or you gonna help an old woman outta this contraption?"
Vin stepped forward and helped Nettie down from the stage. He was very fond of the older woman, and he and JD were her two favorites. Leaving her niece to the besotted JD, Nettie actually hugged Vin as he lifted her from the stage to the boardwalk to avoid the muddy road. That he returned it made her beam in pleasure. "What mischief you boys been gettingí into since I been gone?"
"Nothiní good." He was enveloped by a hug from Casey. "Nice to see you too, Casey."
Casey was clearly happy to be home and even happier to see JD. Vin was just good to see because he treated her like a little sister, all the men did except for JD. He was just as smitten with Casey as she was with him. They moved further down the boardwalk as the driver tossed Vin and JD the bags that were tied onto the top of the stage. A canvas strapped over the top of the luggage had kept the rain from soaking the bags, so the two men escorted the ladies over to the Clarion where Mary emerged to greet her friends. Chris was with her, and Mary had a pleased look on her face, with just the barest hint of a blush. Nettie raised a quizzical eye to Vin, and he obliged her.
"I reckon Chris just asked Mary to your welcome home dinner."
"Our what dinner?" Mary and Chris had arrived, and Casey decided to hug the man in black. She was one of the few people who didnít fear Chris Larabee, and he actually returned the hug. Mary hugged Nettie first and then Casey. Chris tried glaring the matching grins off of Vin and JD, but they ignored him.
"JD and Ezra suggested we give yíall a welcome home dinner. All the boys, Mary, Inez, and Billy will be there. Yíall come, wonít ya?"
Nettie looked up at those twinkly blue eyes and decided it was a good thing she wasnít thirty years younger. Sheíd loved her husband dearly, but Vin Tanner was a good-looking man. When he smiled, those eyes just lit up. If he knew half the effect he had on women, the man would be too dangerous to let loose. The fact that he was on the shy side only endeared him to Nettie all the more.
"I guess Casey and me can stay with Mary tonight." She received a smile from Mary indicating that went without saying. "Beiní away from home one more day wonít hurt us. Weíll let you boys take us out for a fine dinner, and then you can escort us home in the morniní. That okay with you, girl?" The looks of excitement on Caseyís face and Maryís were all the encouragement Nettie needed. "I guess weíd better get all dressed up if weíre goiní out on the town with Mr. Fancy over there." Nettie waved to her favorite con artist as he exited the hotel. "I guess you boys had better go get fixed up, so you donít look shabby next to us."
"Yeah, Iíll go shave and get a bath and. . . ."
Vin pushed JD ahead of him with the luggage. "Weíll set your bags here and come back for you," Ezra walked up to them at that moment. Vin raised an eyebrow, and the gambler gave the required response.
"I suppose you gentlemen will return to escort these ladies at around seven this evening? Will that give you ladies ample time to recuperate from that arduous journey?"
"Seven is a good time, Mr. Fancy." Ezra flashed his gold tooth at Nettie and kissed Caseyís extended hand. The girl curtsied to the Southerner.
"I have missed you as well Mrs. Wells." He tipped his hat and ushered the other men away from Maryís door. JD winked at Casey as he went by, and Casey giggled.
Ezra sighed, "You have been hanging around Mr. Wilmington far too long, Mr. Dunne. I can see that my work transforming you into a gentleman this evening will certainly be a challenge for me. Gentlemen, after you." He indicated the bathhouse across the street. "I expect everyone will do their very best to appear as gentlemanly as possible this evening?" He fixed an aristocratic stare onto all three men.
"I think he wants you to take a bath, Vin." Chris laughed at the look Vin gave him.
"Hey, I ainít the one who looks like heís been digginí through the garbage."
"No, that was Buck getting us hit with garbage when he was flirtiní too much with Inez after you left." Chris removed what looked like a piece of bread crust from his duster. He sighed, "Mary saw it happen. Laughed all the way to the Clarion office while she kept brushing pieces of bread off me."
Vin and Ezra laughed while JD swung around to face Chris. "Inez threw garbage at you and Buck?"
"She threw it at Buck and got me, Nathan, and Josiah, too. Donít think any of Ďem will sit next to her at dinner. I guess sheíll have to sit between Ezra and Vin."
"Not if she plans on throwing food at Mr. Wilmington. You will make him behave in public, will you not?" This banter continued as the men walked over to the bathhouse. Vin was actually looking forward to an evening with his friends.
Josiah and Nathan were already soaking in tubs of hot water when the other men had gathered their clothes and joined them there. They had already shaved and were in the process of washing off the rest of the garbage that had hit them when Inez had lost her fiery temper. She had already apologized to the men, and they had assured her that they had often wanted to do the same to Buck. They were ignoring Buck, but that hadnít kept the scoundrel quiet. In fact it only made him talk louder.
"I donít care what you say, that girl likes me. Sheís just playiní hard to get."
"Buck, I donít think throwing garbage at someone is a sign of affection." JD just couldnít resist rubbing in Buckís latest rejection from Inez.
Buck threw down the towel that he had been using to wipe the excess shaving soap from his face and turned an irate eye on the youngest of the seven.
"Oh and just where is all this wisdom concerniní females cominí from? Ainít from no personal experience."
Chris decided to stop the fight that was brewing. "Well Buck, I canít ever remember a woman throwing garbage at me." He sighed, "That is until I met you." The others laughed.
Buckís response was a snort and a wet towel thrown in Chrisís direction. The towel caught JD on his bare back.
"Hey, Buck!" JD picked up the towel and started to retaliate until he saw Buck duck behind Josiah. The oldest member of the seven had finished his bath and was in the process of drying off. He raised an eyebrow at JDís intentions. The kid grinned and dropped the towel. He wasnít afraid of Josiah, but he had a feeling the big man would be more than happy to help JD with Buck if he just bided his time.
As the big man dried off, wrapped a towel around his waist, and walked over to his clothes, Nathan also rose from the tub and dried off. He moved over to the bench where they had left their clean clothes. Chris and Ezra moved over to the same bench and dropped their clean clothes next to the space where Nathan and Josiah had placed their clothes. As Chris laid his clothes down, he handed Josiah a pair of pants the same color as Buck's. Josiah grabbed Buckís pants from the pile of clean clothes and replaced them with the pair Chris had slipped him. Vin and JD, on the other side of the room both busied themselves as Buck climbed into a tub of clean, hot water. JD climbed into the other tub that the Jake had just filled. Chris and Ezra were both shaving as Josiah and Nathan sat down on the benches. Josiah had his pants on and his shirt unbuttoned. Nathan was in the process of buttoning his shirt. They looked as innocent as only they could. Buck had no idea they were not going to let him get away with having garbage thrown all over them. They had forgiven Inez, but Buck was their friend. They owed it to him to pay him back.
Vin had shrugged out of his suspenders, discarded his shirt, and unbuttoned three buttons on his pants before he dropped to the floor to take off his boots and socks. He didnít want to move any of the clothing that had been piled on the benches. Besides, he didnít want Buck to know it was he who had provided Chris with a pair of his brown pants that matched Buckís. He was staying as far from Buckís clothes as he could, but Vin couldnít wait for Buck to try and put them on. He finally joined Chris at the mirror to shave. Ezra had already finished and was just stepping into a tub of steaming water when Nathan turned the conversation onto todayís activities.
"So Ezra, howíd you figure out that man was a cheat? You know him from somewhereís else?"
"No, our illustrious leader and sharpshooter were instrumental in spotting Simmonsí dishonesty."
That peaked Buckís interest. "Chris and Vin spotted him cheatiní fore you did?"
"No, Vin aní I spotted him right after Ezra. We just noticed Ezra watchiní him win too much money too fast. We figured somethiní was up."
"Aní I asked Ezra if he was cheatiní."
"Hell, next time I play cards with Ezra, Iím sittiní next to you aní Vin."
"I take umbrage at that disparaging remark on my character, Mr. Wilmington." Everyone laughed at the bantering between the two men. It was typical. Josiah added his two cents as he finished putting on his socks.
"Ezra donít have to cheat to beat you, Buck. Inez walks by, and you forget where your hat is much less what cards youíre holdiní in your hands."
JDís burst of laughter was cut short as Buck shoved the kidís head under the water. The kid was ready for him, though. He slapped Buck right in the mouth with the wet rag in his hand. Buck let go, and JD surfaced still grinning. The others shook their heads at the two and continued getting ready. Nathan had finished putting on his socks and boots. He was in the process of pulling up his suspenders and buttoning his pants. Ezra was soaking comfortably in a tub, and Chris had finally found his own corner of heaven. Nothing was quite as soothing as a tub of hot, steaming water. Vin was the last man to get into a tub of hot water.
"Hey Vin, if you got any money left after you buy us all dinner tonight, can you loan me five dollars?" Buck was up to something.
Vin stopped washing his hair and looked at Buck through the soap running down his face. "Do I want to know what you need five dollars for?"
"Well, I figured that since youíre a man of means now, you might be wantiní to dress more like Ezra. I saw this fine jacket in Mrs. Pottersí store. Itíd look real fine on ya instead of that old coat ya wear."
Buckís laugh was the one cut short this time as a carefully launched bar of soap hit him directly in the mouth. Vin wasnít a sharpshooter for nothing. Buck sputtered, still laughing as much as the others at Vinís response to his suggestion. The others couldnít pass it up.
"I have seen this coat to which you are referring, Buck. It would certainly lend an air of fashion to our resident tracker."
Vin looked at the bar of soap that Chris had tossed him to replace the one heíd thrown at Buck. He looked at Ezra and grinned evilly. The gambler saw the intent and quickly changed tactics.
"However, since this small but pleasant berg already has a man of fashion, I see no reason for Mr. Tanner to expend his money on such a frivolous item." The tactic worked nicely as Vin applied the soap to his body instead of using it as another weapon. Ezra wasnít finished, yet.
"Now if Vin would like to invest his money and double it, I would be more than happy to invest it for him for a small fee of course."
"Of course." Josiah and Nathan said simultaneously.
"Thanks, Ezra. What Ďr you gonna charge me, ten per cent?" A flashing gold tooth matched his wry grin.
"I think ten per cent is just the right fee, my friend." Ribbing one another continued as each man finished his bath and proceeded to dry off and dress. Josiah and Nathan were each finishing as Buck came over, a towel loosely wrapped around his waist. He picked up his pants from the stack and proceeded to put one foot in one pant leg. He got as far as the calf of his leg when he noticed the pant leg wouldnít go any further. He looked puzzled as he hopped on one leg. Vin had his pants on but not buttoned as the sight of Buck hopping around with one leg stuck in the pants caused Vin to crumple on the floor in convulsive laughter. JD, who had his shirt partially tucked into his pants fell off the bench and joined Vin on the floor laughing.
"You two! Whatíd ya do to my pants?" Buck had lost the towel wrapped around his waist, and he was trying to regain his balance as he tried to turn the wet towel into a weapon. Chris and Ezra were sitting on the bench laughing too hard at Buckís antics to even try to save Vin and JD. The only two who were successfully appearing innocent were the two masterminds of the whole scene.
Josiah and Nathan looked at one another and smiled in unholy satisfaction. Nathan tripped Buck as he rid himself of the offending garment and started after the two men rolling on the floor clutching their aching stomachs as tears streamed down their faces. Buckís look of surprised indignation and the renewed laughter of the others finally caused Josiah and Nathan to crack. Josiah held up Buckís pants with hands that shook as his body convulsed in laughter. Nathan snatched the towels Buck was trying to grab and flopped on the bench by Josiah. Buck looked around at everyone and succumbed to the riotous laughter surrounding him. He was sitting on the floor between Vin and JD stark raving naked. He knew who the guilty ones were and why. Shaking his head and laughing with his friends he grabbed his pants and put them on. He did manage to step on JD and Vin in the process. If they were laughing so hard at him that they couldnít get up off the floor, they deserved to be stepped on.
It was nearly seven when the men finally emerged from the bathhouse. Inez had just stepped out of the saloon in her very best dress. Vin and JD grabbed Buck before he could make a beeline to the woman. Josiah and Nathan quickly crossed the street to escort Inez to the hotel.
Buck started to follow the when Chris spoke up. "Buck, why donít you and Ezra go see if everything is ready? Vin, JD, aní me will go over and get Mary, Nettie, and Casey."
"Sure Chris. Why, Iíll just make sure that youíre sittiní next to Mary."
"Buck, donít be makiní Inez sit by you. I want to eat my dinner not wear it." JD and Vin both started laughing again. Buck affectionately cuffed both of them on the back of their heads.
Ezra slapped Buck on the back. "Rest assured, gentlemen. I will do my utmost to curb our compatriotís amorous tendencies in order for us to enjoy a fine evening repast amongst friends."
"Huh?" JD looked at Chris and Vin.
"Heís gonna make sure Buck donít piss Inez off in front of Mary and Nettie."
"Well why didnít he say so? Canít he talk English?"
"He is, JD. He just donít talk the same kinda English we do."
"Címon, boys. We got three ladies waitiní on us. Billy looks like he needs rescuiní." Vin and JD followed Chris as Ezra pushed the still talking Buck across the street and into the hotel.
Dinner turned out to be a great success. The seven men escorted their friends home and turned in themselves. None of them knew that tomorrow, all hell would break loose.
Friday morning began as usual. Vin and Chris were outside the saloon just past dawn drinking hot coffee. Josiah and Nathan joined them soon after, all four men enjoying the silence as a new spring day began to take shape. An hour or so later, JD meandered up the walk and leaned against the back of Vinís chair. Chris looked up at him.
"Any trouble, JD?" JD had spent the last four hours on patrol. He was on his way to get some food.
"Nope, things are as quiet as church mice."
Josiah smiled at JDís joke, stood, and stretched.
"Protectiní a town against church mice can work up a real appetite. Goiní for breakfast?"
"Sure am. You guys cominí?"
"Iím in." Nathan rose to join them. He knocked Vinís feet off of the table. "Címon, letís go. Breakfastís the most important meal of the day."
Vin looked at Chris who in turn looked at him. "I think heís talkiní to you, cowboy." Vin got to his feet.
Chris rose to his feet. "Who you calliní a cowboy?"
Nathan snorted and grinned when both men flanked him on either side and started ribbing the healer.
"Best go eat breakfast, Chris. Nathaníll probably think one of us is sick if we donít eat."
"Yeah, then heíll want to poke and prod on us till he finds somethiní wrong." Chris sighed, "Itís easier if we just go on peaceable like." Chris winked at JD who was grinning.
"Ya got that right. I wonder if Mrs. Bridger has some of those biscuits ready." Vin slapped Nathan on the shoulder.
"I love her biscuits. Theyíre just like the ones my ma used to make me." JD was in a great mood. Dinner had been fun last night, and Casey had actually kissed him on the cheek. Not even being on duty for four hours could ruin his mood. It did not go unnoticed.
"Youíre in an awfully good mood for someone whoís been up for four hours. Anything you want to share with us?" Josiah and the others already knew, but it was their duty as friends to harass JD.
The kid took it in stride. "Well, itís spring, itís a beautiful day, and Iím gonna have breakfast with my friends. Thatís good enough for me." JD heard the others laugh in agreement. This day couldnít get any better.
It got worse.
While they were waiting for breakfast, Bill came in with a telegram. Josiah saw the man hesitate. He appeared a little apprehensive. Not knowing if the man thought Chris Larabee would shoot him for disturbing his breakfast or if he was in possession of bad news, Josiah smiled a greeting to put the man at ease. "Got somethiní for one of us, Bill?"
Chris turned around and saw the look on the manís face. "What is it Bill?"
It had to be bad news by the look on the manís face. He handed the telegram to Larabee like he was relieved to no longer bear the responsibility of it. He was. He knew if anyone could handle the news he brought, it was the seven peacekeepers of Four Corners. Bill hadnít always felt that way, but he came here just after the seven had taken on the job of protecting the town. No matter what their reputations prior to this, they had always taken care of the town. Bill had seen them risk their lives too many times to not give them his trust, and he trusted them to keep the town safe from this latest threat. When Larabee reached for a coin to give Bill a tip for bringing the telegram over to him himself, Bill waved him off.
"No sir, I know whatís in that. Donít want no tip for bringing it."
Larabee nodded his thanks, and Bill left. Mrs. Bridger had seen the exchange from the kitchen door. She set immediately to work gathering a platter of food and coffee for the men to take with them to the jail. This had happened too many times before, and the mother of five healthy children was determined to fatten some of these men up. Larabee and Tanner were just too thin and wiry to her thinking. They needed some meat on their bones, so they could be just as strapping as that fine looking Mr. Sanchez. Why if she didnít love Mr. Bridger as much as she did, she could have a crush on that preacher man. Besides, that handsome scoundrel and the gambler were both absent, and they needed food too. She grabbed the dozen biscuits she had just taken out of the oven to add to the others she already had on the plate. Then she grabbed a crock of butter, and covered the heaping plate of bacon she had been cooking the men, and placed it all on the platter with a fresh pot of coffee. She knew they had plates and cups at the jail, so she piled on more food, hurrying to have it ready and waiting at the door when the men left.
JD was beside himself with curiosity. So were the others, but they had learned that bad news was not something you eagerly sought. You tried to get it before it could take advantage of you, you met it head on, you even accepted it as best you could, but you didnít rush to meet it. Best if you let it come to you. Larabee read the telegram silently. Vin knew it must be bad by the way Chrisís lips formed a straight line. Normally, Chris had a poker face Ezra would kill for, but this news had elicited a reaction from Chris. Vin leaned forward to listen. Josiah and Nathan took their cue from Vin and both gave Larabee their undivided attention. JD couldnít stand the silence any longer.
Vin threw JD a look of caution, and the impatient and inexperienced kid returned Vinís look with one that openly said, ĎWhat?í
"Seems a gang of bank robbers hit Hansen City and Eagle Bend in the last two days. Killed two people in Hansen and three in Eagle Bend. Wounded two deputies in Eagle Bend. Theyíre headed this way."
Vin got up immediately. "Iíll go get Ezra and meet you at the jail. JD?"
JD got up. "Iíll go tell Miz Nettie and Casey why we canít take Ďem home today." Vin patted him on the back and left. JD turned to go when Chrisís voice stopped him.
"JD." The kid knew what the man in black was going to say.
"Iíll tell Mary and them to stay inside and keep their eyes open."
Chris nodded at the kid and let him go. He looked at Josiah and Nathan. They returned his grin.
"Boyís learniní." Chris stated the obvious.
"Yeah, and not all the stuff he learns is bad." Nathan stood up and joined Chris as he walked to the door.
"Shows heís got more brains than we figured. Guess he doesnít listen to everything Buck tells him." Josiah got the expected response as Chris snorted and Nathan laughed.
"Canít argue with that, Josiah."
Nathan grabbed the big platter Mrs. Bridger was standing at the door with. "Thank ya, maíam." Josiah smiled, and took the coffeepot by the cloth wrapped round the handle to prevent burning his hand. Chris tipped his hat in thanks. They left the woman beaming in the doorway and were at the jail in a matter of minutes. Buck took one look at their faces and dropped his feet from the desk to the floor. He took the platter from Nathan and set it on the table.
"Whatís up, boys?" Josiah set the coffeepot next to it and went for cups.
"Trouble, Buck. Get yourself some breakfast while we wait for the others."
Knowing Chris would tell him when everyone was there, Buck picked up one of the fluffy biscuits, buttered it, and put a couple of slices of bacon on it. He took a big bite. It might be a while before he got more. The others joined him, careful to leave a share for the missing men. Vin and an elegant but sleepy eyed Ezra joined them right before JD walked in the door. The boy looked a little flustered.
"Miz Nettie or Mary take a piece outta your hide boy?" The others laughed at Buckís accurate assessment of what had happened at the Clarion.
JD gave a rueful grin and looked over at Vin. "You or Chris can go next time and let them two chew on your ears for a while."
"Hey I ainít stupid, JD. Telliní Nettie aní Mary to do somethiní is like telliní the weather to snow in the middle of the desert in August. Why ya think I sent you?" Vin acknowledged his reluctance to tangle with Mary and Nettie at the same time. Both were strong independent women who did what they wanted when they wanted. Giving them orders was not something Vin Tanner wanted to do. He happened to like his head just where it was, on his shoulders. Vin grabbed the buttered biscuit and bacon Josiah handed him with a nod of his head and went to lean by the window.
Chris filled in Ezra and Buck on what he had told the others. Vin was standing by the window watching as Mrs. Potter exited the bank. Orville Thomas, the bank manager, was escorting her to her store. Vin knew the widower liked Mrs. Potter. She certainly seemed pleased with his company. He smiled as Mrs. Potter and Mr. Thomas walked past the jail.
"Vin, you wool gatherin' over there?"
Just as Vin turned to assure Buck they had his undivided attention, he saw two strangers ride into town. There was something about them that made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He turned to look at the whole street in front of the bank. Three more strangers were getting off their horses. He swallowed the last bite of biscuit.
"How many men were in that gang a bank robbers?"
Something in the tone of his voice when he asked that question got everyone's attention. As they gathered by him at the window, three more men rode in. They stationed themselves in front of the saloon, between the bank and the jail.
"Three are in front of the bank, two just rode in an' they stopped right outside Mrs. Potter's store. Bank manager walked her over. Now there 'r three more between us an' the bank."
"Telegram said there were ten men in this gang." Chris was standing right next to Vin looking for the missing two.
"One's up at the hotel window, third floor." Vin wasn't the sharpshooter for nothing.
"Over by the side of the bank, back in the alley." Buck spotted the tenth man. I'll go around and get him from behind."
"JD, Ezra, you two stay here and come out on my signal." Chris looked at both men.
"Dare I ask what this signal will be?"
Chris's feral grin reached his cold green eyes, and Ezra nodded. Chris knew Ezra would spot any signal Chris gave. He also knew that Larabee trusted him to keep JD's enthusiasm in check until they needed it.
"Josiah, can you and Nathan get over behind those three near the bank?"
"Can ducks swim?" The others laughed. JD just looked indignant. No one had laughed at dinner when he used that as a punch line to one of his jokes. He was cut off from his protest as Nathan and Josiah followed Buck out the back door. Just as Buck opened it, Vin spoke.
"I'll climb up to the roof of the church. Ya still got the ladder back there?" He looked at Josiah for confirmation.
Chris started to protest when Josiah shook his head yes, but Vin cut him off.
"They got a man at the window on the third floor of the hotel. If I don't get as high, you boys'll get cut down like a herd of buffalo."
There was no arguing with the sharpshooter. Chris knew he was right, and so did everyone else. Vin stepped past Buck to the outside. The last thing he heard as he headed to get into place was Chris telling him to watch his back. Well, his back would have to take care of itself. He had Nettie, Mary, Casey, and Billy at the Clarion, Inez at the saloon, Mrs. Potter at the store, and he had six men who were his family whose backs needed watching. Sometimes you had to make choices, and Vin Tanner chose to watch some other backs before he watched his own. If he had known the resulting trouble that choice would bring down on his head, he still would have made it anyway. That was his way. He noticed that one of the men had broken away from two of the others at the front of the saloon and had joined the other three entering the bank. He was at the ladder behind the church as he scrambled up the rungs to get into place. They were going to need him there real fast, so Vin didn't bother to look at the man across the street in the alley.
Vin no sooner reached the top of the church roof when he saw the man from the third floor window take aim. Vin didn't care who the intended victim was. The man in the window wasn't going to get a shot off even if Vin had to shoot before Chris's signal. The sniper must have been checking his sights because the rifle was lowered without a shot. The minutes it had taken to reach their positions seemed like hours to the men waiting to spring the trap on the bank robbers. They would wait until the men inside the bank exited to avoid any hostages taken or innocents killed.
It had only been a few minutes after the men entered the bank when Vin saw a movement near the window of Mrs. Potter's store. It was Chris. He had both men in front of her store covered. Vin knew Ezra and JD wouldnít leave the jail until Chris gave his signal, but the two men in front of the saloon were their responsibility. Josiah's hat appeared briefly in the alley between the hotel and the bank, so Vin figured Nathan would be there as well. He checked the sights on his rifle as he looked for Buck and saw his friend making his way toward the alley where the tenth man was hiding. He couldn't see the man in the alley from where he was, but he trusted Buck to take care of him. The ladies' man was one of the best men with a gun Vin had seen.
Vin saw movement coming from the front of the bank. He leaned out as far as he could to make certain he got the sniper at the third floor window before the man could shoot anyone. He waited for Chris's signal never knowing that the man in the alley had seen the sun glance off the barrel of his rifle. He never knew that the man had begun running behind the buildings in town trying to make his way over to come up on Vin from behind. He was fortunate that Buck had seen the man run behind Potter's store and turn into the next alley in order to cross the street and get to the church. Then all hell broke loose.
Four men exited the bank. Before they could even make it to their horses, Vin heard Chris's voice ring out.
"You're surrounded. Put your weapons down. No one has to die today."
The men answered by shooting at anything that moved. Vin had the sniper in his sights as the man in the window took aim at someone across the street. He gently squeezed the trigger. The sniper never got a shot off as he crashed through the window and toppled to the ground below. Chris took out one of the men in front of Potter's store just as the other one took aim at him. Vin took him out, but it cost him. He felt the bullet rip into the fleshy part of his upper left arm. He didn't have time to see if one of the bank robbers had him in his sights, or if it was a ricochet from one of the bullets that were flying everywhere. He sighted another man running for cover and took aim. He fell, splashing into the horse trough.
That last shot had evened out the odds, and Vin looked for someone else. Josiah and Nathan had gotten two of the remaining men in front of the bank. Wounded or dead, Vin neither knew nor cared. He was looking for the remaining four men. He hadn't seen Buck or the man from the alley since before the shooting started. The two men in front of the saloon had been exchanging fire with Ezra and JD, but Vin was not at an angle to see what was going on. He moved further out of cover on the roof in order to spot the missing bank robbers. The gunfire was more sporadic now as the remaining men had decided to escape rather than stay and fight. There was still all that money they had already stolen, fewer to divide it among, and a hangman's noose waiting if they were caught. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They took off for their horses.
Ezra and JD had moved from behind the horse trough in front of the jail in order to fire on the two men who had broken cover from in front of the saloon. The gambler and kid had taken opposite sides of an overturned buckboard whose horses had bolted during the confrontation. The remaining thieves were trying to get to their horses. The other man had both guns blazing as he provided cover for his two friends. Ezra and JD were taking most of the fire when Ezra moved to take a shot at one of the men who had reached the horses. Chris took out one of the wounded men on the ground. The man had risen from his spot on the ground in order to join the three thieves shooting at the peacekeepers. This time, the man stayed down.
Vin hadn't spotted Buck or the robber from the alley, and he was beginning to worry about Buck. If he was able, he knew Buck would be joining the others rounding up the three men he could see. He broke cover even more to get a better look. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted one of the three men pulling a small pistol he had tucked in the front of his pants. At the same time Vin heard a noise behind him, but before he could turn and check it out the man with the pistol had Ezra dead in his sights. The noise would have to wait.
Vin had the man in his sights just as he saw JD come out running into the middle of the street yelling and firing both guns. 'What the hell was the kid doing? Tryin' to get himself killed?' Vin didn't have any more time to think. He pulled the trigger and felt a blinding pain hit him in the left side of his back. The man who was going to shoot Ezra was down, JD was still yelling and firing, and Vin was sliding out of control down the sloping church roof to the ground below. He heard yelling behind him and yelling below him, but his only thought was to grab at anything with his right arm to stop his descent. If he didn't catch on to something soon, he would be deader than Eli Joe.
Then he heard screaming. Then he felt his feet go over the edge of the roof. As he began to lose consciousness, he flailed out one last time with his right arm. He managed to catch his right arm on the overhang. His body was dangling in a precarious position. He didn't know if he could hold on long enough for anyone to get to him. Everything was beginning to blur. He could hear yelling and screaming. He heard Chris and Nettie, but the only thing he could make out was Ezra yelling about Buck. Where was Buck? Vin hoped nothing was wrong with him. He still didn't know what had happened to the man in the alley, but he had a pretty good idea who had shot him. The screaming had become garbled sounds as Vin found he couldn't focus any more. Everything was getting fainter. He was losing his grip on the roof and on reality. He just couldn't hold on any more. Just as he felt himself start to fall, the pain in his left arm exploded and everything went black.
Buck's stomach felt like someone shoved a fist in it. He had known exactly where the man was going when he saw him duck down the alley by Potter's to cross the street. He could also see the sun glance off Vin's rifle from in the alley, and he knew the man was heading straight for the sharpshooter. Buck ran for all he was worth. He heard Chris's ultimatum, all the resulting shooting, but he couldn't stop. The others could handle the men in their sights, but they couldn't handle this man if he succeeded in killing Vin and taking Vin's position on the roof. He saw the man run around the corner of the building. Buck couldn't get a shot off from where he was, and he feared the man would make it up the ladder before Buck could get him. He holstered his weapon and ran faster.
By the time Buck rounded the corner and reached the ladder, the man was on the roof. The blood was pounding in his ears, and his breathing was becoming a bit labored since he had literally run around the entire town. He could hear his heart beating in his ears. Buck noticed the shooting had grown more sporadic. The man on the roof drew his gun and disappeared. Buck flew up the ladder and reached the top just as he heard JD yell. He watched in horror as Vin ignored the man behind him to shoot someone Buck couldn't see. Just as Vin fired, the man shot Vin. Buck saw the red blossom of blood grow as Vin began to slide toward the edge, and the man on the roof looked down at the matching red blossom on his chest. The man dropped his gun and toppled over the edge as he saw JD holster his weapon and run hell bent for leather to the church.
Buck sprang back into action as he saw Vin slide down the roof, grabbing frantically for a hold anywhere. Buck wasn't going to let his friend die by falling off that roof. Despite feeling like his lungs were ready to burst, despite the slippery foothold, he sprang forward. Vin had managed to grab onto the edge of the roof, but he was just dangling there. Before Vin lost his grip, Buck grabbed Vinís right hand and then leaned over to grab Vin by the left shoulder to haul him back to safety. Buck hadnít realized Vin had been shot in his upper left arm until Vin cried out and lost consciousness. That was another thing Buck could feel guilty over. First he let Vin get shot, and then he caused him enough pain to knock him out. Buck braced his feet against the roof edge and grabbed onto Vin by hugging the slight tracker in a bear hug. He pulled his bandanna from his neck and held it against the exit wound in the front on the left of sharpshooterís midsection.
"I got him, but I need some help up here!"
"Buck, he all right?" Chris was right below them, as were Nettie and Mary. "JD and Nathan are on their way up."
"Heís been hit twice, Chris, aní heís out. We gotta get him down from here."
"Just hold on to him til Nathan gets there. Heíll know how to get him down." Chris turned to the others. "Anyone left alive?"
Ezra answered, "Three are, but one wonít be for long. Our Mr. Tanner doesnít miss his target." The emotion in his voice wasnít something Chris associated with the gambler. The voice that was usually carefully neutral was now a mixture of respect, guilt, and concern. Chris raised an eyebrow in question. "Mr. Tanner broke cover to prevent that miscreant from putting a premature end to my less than stellar career."
Chris nodded. Vin had broken cover to save his life as well. He knew exactly how Ezra felt. He also knew the man on the roof would have done it all over again to save any of his friends. "Then, Iíd say we both have something to thank him for." Ezra acknowledged their common ground. "Soon as Nathan letís us know how he is, can you help Josiah get this cleared up?"
Ezra was looking up, but he nodded his agreement. Chris didn't really notice anything except the grip of his hand in Mary's. Neither man was moving until Nathan said Vin was all right. Chris would have scaled the walls of the church to get to Vin if Buck hadn't already gotten to him. Larabee hated waiting, not knowing, and Ezra, well Ezra was another man wracked by worry.
Ezra didnít have many friends, and one of them had foolishly taken a bullet for him. 'Damn the man! How dare Vin cause this helpless feeling in the pit of his stomach!' It was bad enough JD had scared ten years off his life when he ran onto the street yelling for Vin to watch out. Ezra had seen the man behind Vin, and he realized that Vin was concentrating on something else. The two shots went off simultaneously as Ezra turned slightly to watch a man falling right behind him, and then forward again to see Vin lurching forward sliding to his death on the roof. Then Buck had shown up just as Vin was dangling over the edge. He knew right then that Tanner had been intent on saving him and not himself.
Ezra didn't often allow himself the luxury of feelings. They were dangerous in his line of work, but Ezra couldn't stop the myriad of emotions that were coursing through him. He liked these men he rode with. He would deny it on his dying breath, and he would only admit it to himself on rare occasions. This was one of those rare moments. A man as different from Ezra in speech, in dress, and in education as a man could get had known that breaking cover like that was suicide. Vin Tanner had been willing to place his life on the line for Ezra Standish. Few people had ever done anything like that for the gambler before. His mother had always taught him that he was the only person Ezra could depend upon, so the idea that someone else would be willing to place his own life in danger to save him made Ezra question even more the truth about life according to Maude. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and he looked into the frightened eyes of Nettie Wells.
He noticed Mary was clinging to Chris, and that even Josiah was barely paying attention to the three men being rounded up by the willing citizens. One of their peacekeepers had been shot protecting them, and they were going to help out by cleaning up the mess, so the other six men could concentrate on their fallen comrade. Ezra took Nettie's hand and took her arm on his, supporting the older woman. He knew how she had adopted Vin Tanner as her son, well all of them really, but Vin was her favorite.
Bill and Orville were
directing several other men to take the wounded men to the jailhouse. No
one really cared if they got medical attention too much. Bill had explained
the trail of death this gang had left in the two neighboring towns. The
mortally wounded outlaw died as two men started to take him to the jailhouse.
They took his body to the undertaker's instead. JD's hat appeared, and
they knew Nathan had been right behind him. They waited impatiently for
IN PART 2 |
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