DISCLAIMER: No profit is made in any way shape or form from this fan fic. All of the Magnificent Seven characters are the property of Mirisch, Trilogy, and MGM. However I would like to state that I do not wish my 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.
RATING: PG 13
NOTE: Thanks to my beta readers Judy, Paula, and Wen.
Chris Larabee watched the landscape fade rapidly from the window as the train hustled along. They were two days out of Brecken, three from home. Home, he had never thought to refer to another place as home again, but one woman, a little boy, and six men had stormed the wall that had protected his heart from emotion since the murder of his wife and son. He didn’t know when it had happened, and he really didn’t care. He just knew that these people had insinuated themselves into his life as solidly as a tree sends down roots. Chris Larabee had six brothers now. Six obstinate, bull-headed, independent ‘do what I want and you can’t stop me’ brothers who needed a firm hand to keep them in line.
He shuddered to think what they would get up to without him around. JD would settle down to marry Casey one day, if the brash young man lived that long. He was learning not to rush into situations without thinking, though, so he just might live to be an old man. Buck? Well Buck was going to cat around till his dying day unless some irate husband got him first. The one woman who had stolen Buck’s heart was as allergic to marriage as Buck was. Ezra was probably going to end up running the biggest gambling hall this side of Denver with his penchant for finding money where none appeared to be, or he’d get shot in the back by some idiot who didn’t realize the gambler was just too good to cheat. Nathan would end up at the Seminole village married to Rain while Josiah joined the tribe to administer to their spiritual needs whether it was Christianity or native beliefs. He was just pondering what his best friend would get into when the train whistle blew. They were pulling into Crosby. The outskirts of the town were dirty with signs of too much growth with too little attention paid to what was discarded when left behind for better things. Vin Tanner sat down on the couch beside him.
"Nice a John to set us up in this fancy car even if it’s mighty big for just seven men."
Chris grinned, "Least he could do since we just delivered over fifty thousand in gold for him." He nodded toward Buck and Ezra, "They still playin’?" So far escorting the gold from the bank in Brecken to the workers in the different cities and towns had been uneventful. This one town was the last.
"Well, Ezra done cleaned me out, and he should have all of Buck’s money by the end of this hand." Vin started grinning the minute Buck threw down his cards in disgust.
"Vin, shoot Ezra for me. I don’t want ta have ta clean my gun." Ezra flashed a gold tooth as he tallied Buck’s losses.
"I believe, Mr. Wilmington, that you are now in debt to me for the sum of one million dollars." Ezra held up a piece of paper. "Since you are my friend, I will accept a marker from you as I did from Mr. Tanner."
"Yeah, but Vin only owes you half a that. I think I been cheated. I ain’t givin’ you nothin’ but a knuckle sandwich." Buck stood up from the table and grabbed Ezra by the throat. The piece of paper fell out of Ezra’s hands as he moved to prevent the irate man from wrinkling his new suit. Buck was laughing maniacally as the gambler reacted swiftly. Chris laughed while Vin plucked the marker off the floor and tore it into shreds. The two men squared off, and then a knife flew out of nowhere to embed itself neatly into the table between the two men who were in the midst of exchanging fake blows. The knife called a halt to the proceedings as Ezra and Buck let go of one another and stepped apart.
"What did I tell you boys was gonna happen iffen you woke me up one more time horsin’ around?" Nathan raised bleary looking eyes at the two guilty men. The head cold had taken its toll on the healer and the culprit who had given it to both him and Josiah. JD still snored on the couch on which he was sacked out looking as if he was used to Buck making noise all the time. By rights, his snoring should have created enough noise to wake the dead much less Nathan Jackson. Josiah was leaning back in an overstuffed chair, the twin to Nathan’s with his head back. Nathan’s actions had caused the big man to raise his head and grin evilly at Buck and Ezra.
"I believe you said you were going to cut out their tongues and toss them off the train, brother."
"It was his fault, Nathan." Buck was pointing at Ezra.
"I am innocent of any crime. It is a conspiracy between Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Tanner to cheat me out of what is rightfully mine. I was merely defending myself." Looking around for his discarded marker, Ezra turned to regard Vin with an accusing glare. "I believe I have been robbed."
Vin regarded Ezra solemnly for just a moment before he burst out laughing. "I got no idea what you’re talkin’ about, Ezra."
Buck and Ezra started laughing at that. Those three had been going at it the whole trip. They would gamble for outrageous sums of money and then each one would refuse to pay the others. The first time it had happened, the others had thought the three were serious. So did the poor older gentleman who was hired as the porter. That rapidly passed to amusement as the three used different tactics to wrest their money markers from Ezra. Even Mr. Jenkins had joined in giving Vin the key to the desk in which Ezra had asked him to safeguard his money markers and IOU’s from Buck and Vin.
Nathan shook his head at his friends’ antics as he drank the rest of his willow bark tea. It was a good idea to have brought along his herbal mixture for fever and pain for JD had erupted into a sneezing frenzy the first day out. Four days later he was still a bit irritable, but the hellacious cold was finally over. Only Nathan and Josiah had succumbed to the infection despite Nathan’s dire predictions, ominous warnings, and finally prayers that the others would soon be suffering from the same affliction. It would serve them right, too, for not only ignoring Nathan’s advice but for laughing at his herbal tea concoction they all referred to as ditch water. His face lit up suddenly with an unholy smile as both Buck and Ezra had sneezing fits.
"Told ya," was all Nathan said as he settled back into his chair. Then he added, "Don’t forget to say please when y’all want some of this here ditch water to make you feel better."
Vin looked over at Chris. Neither man was predisposed to catching colds, and despite the close quarters it didn’t look like they would succumb any time soon. Buck and Ezra were a different story. The southerner already sounded like his nose was all stopped up, and Buck had been complaining of a headache just like JD had before the cold had hit him like a horse running from lightning. The two stubborn men decided to change the subject.
"Perhaps I will find a lucrative establishment in which to hone my skills and augment. . . ."
"The Ezra Standish Saloon Fund." The now very wide awake JD Dunne was happy to finish the sentence for the gambler. "You gonna go see how much real money you can win in this town, Ezra?"
"I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, JD." Everyone looked over at Chris. "John said this sheriff is so crooked that they’ll have to screw him in the ground to bury him."
"Surely not everyone in this," Ezra looked outside at the town he could see from the slowing train, "Godforsaken hellhole they call a town is as mendacious as the sheriff?"
"Don’t matter none, Ezra. You won’t be able to do much here but lose."
"Why pray tell is that, Mr. Tanner?" Buck, who had been through this town just like Vin had looked over and winked at Tanner; then, he looked back at Ezra.
"One word, pard."
"Clan." Vin supplied the word that made Ezra frown.
"You do not mean,..."
"If the sheriff don’t own it," Buck started.
"His brothers do." Vin finished it.
"Well in that case, I believe I shall spend some time stretching my legs. A gentleman can not be expected to enjoy a game of chance in the unsatisfactory space of a mere hour."
"In that case, Ezra, you can come with me and Vin to turn this gold over to the bank manager."
"Oh, Mr. Larabee. I grow giddy at the excitement the mere thought that outing promises."
Vin looked at Chris, a serious expression replacing the grinning countenance of a moment before. "He just insult you, cowboy?"
"Who’re you callin’ a cowboy, Tanner." The rest laughed as the three men left the private car to walk out to the depot to meet the bank manager who was supposed to be waiting with the sheriff and his guards. They heard Chris giving instructions as he left. "Keep an eye on the gold, boys. We’ll go arrange for it to be delivered to the bank. No one leaves until the gold is taken care of." He didn’t bother to wait until they had given their word that his orders would be obeyed. Chris Larabee never doubted it for a moment.
Chris had established a successful routine that had served them well on this trip. All three would check out the area between the train depot and the bank while they assessed the men with whom they were dealing. The other four men would guard the gold. It had been routine work so far, but Chris should have known by now that very little was routine when the seven were involved.
Sheriff Bo Destry had once been the son of a wealthy planter in Louisiana. The Civil War had destroyed his parents, his home, his very way of life. Having decided the world owed him compensation he took his five younger brothers with him to the untamed West where men unafraid of violence could make money, and make money he did. He was the highest paid lawman in the territory if you included the money he made on the side by collecting extra money from the town businesses he was already paid handsomely to protect. What he and his brothers could not buy into, they forced their way into with threats, muscle, and intimidation. He had called in favors to have the railroad pass through Crosby, so named after his beloved father. He even collected nearly fifteen per cent of the wages for each of the railroad workers and cheated them out of the rest by giving them script instead of money to be used in the town stores.
Now, all he had worked so hard for and killed for was being threatened by some Chinese worker. This skilled and intelligent man had managed to send a letter to John Terrell complaining about the treatment the workers, no matter their race, were receiving from Destry and his brothers. Destry had paid little heed to the letter once he had killed the worker. He never once suspected that John Terrell would care about any of his workers as long as his railroad got built. His surprise, therefore, when the threat – anything that promised retribution for his deeds was considered a threat by Destry – came from no less a personage than John Terrell that he would bypass Crosby with a new spur to Brecken further to the south, Destry had been flabbergasted. He looked over at the battered and bruised man in the cell and heard the train whistle in the background. Destry smiled grimly. Even if what the man had said was true, he would still come out of this a wealthy man. The bulk of the workers laboring to build the railroad were stationed here, and the train was carrying almost fifteen thousand dollars in gold for their payroll and supplies not delivered by the train.
Destry had it all planned. It was so simple and tidy. The men guarding the gold would be accused and arrested for the murder of the man in the jail cell. They would be tried and found guilty by a jury owned by Destry for stealing the gold and for murder. The justice would be swift and the hangings carried out before that nosy Judge Travis could even think about dipping his nose into Crosby’s affairs. There would be no witnesses to cry foul, no one to care but the family and friends, if those seven men had any. Destry strapped on his six guns and walked toward the window to look out. The train was coming. He motioned for his sharp shooting brother to get into position. Al Destry ran out of the door to take up position across from the depot. Maybe those lawmen would put up a fight and he could make a name for himself by killing one or two of them.
Bo Destry knew nothing of true loyalty. He would sell out any of his brothers if they crossed him, and used fear and intimidation to force men to work for him. He had no idea that waiting to warn the seven men he intended to frame for murder were men who had worked for John Terrell for years. They had found jobs and a good living with a man who treated loyalty as if it were more precious than gold. He was one of the few railroad barons who would dirty his hands by coming to the sights and talking to all of his workers. He never forgot a name of anyone who worked for him and treated them all with the same respect he treated his wealthy friends. He was a tough fighter who would dare to take on anyone and anything that threatened his family or his business, and his people repaid him with the same fierce loyalty. Destry only knew that he had to eliminate the man in the cell and the seven men on the train if he had any hope of salvaging all he had worked for. If by some chance his plan failed and the railroad was changed to bypass Crosby, he would at least have the gold.
Destry was unaware as he prepared his trap that there were two important things he hadn’t planned on. Terrell’s men knew that the man in jail had to be liberated, and that the seven men on the train were their only hope. They had waited and watched as the events of the previous days unfolded. These men were no fools and knew the key to Destry’s success was to kill his prisoner and blame someone else. Having been unable to wire Judge Travis or the federal marshal for help because Ethan Destry owned and operated the telegraph office, the railroad men had planted an inconspicuous volunteer at the train station. It was this person’s job to warn the seven men of the prisoner and the trap Destry was waiting to spring on them. It didn’t matter if they knew the whole plan or not, they had had to deal with Destry enough to accurately guess his next move. The railroad men made themselves scarce as the Destry brothers and their men took up positions. They could only wait now and pray the seven men were as good as the appellation given them by the surrounding areas.
Destry paused before he opened the door to leave the jail. “Roger, don’t do anything until we have all seven. Once we got ‘em all out in the open, Ethan’ll start shootin’. Make it look like they put up a fight. Kill him then. You understand me, boy?” Roger was the youngest at twenty, and he looked upon the forty year old Bo as a father. His word was law, and he was eager to please his brother.
“Sure thing, Bo. I’ll kill him once ya get ‘em all.”
Bo Destry smirked at his prisoner. “Maybe I can comfort the grievin’ widow once this is all over. She’ll be needin’ a man’s help by then.” When there was no response, Destry threw a disgusted look at his prisoner. The man had refused to show any emotion at all even when they were beating him. It was a shame to kill a man who was as tough as himself, but it was his own fault. Terrell should never have come to Destry’s town and tried to tell him what to do. What the hell, he would give him one more chance. “You know, you and I could deal very well together. No one has to die.”
The man in the jail cell neither looked at Destry nor paid any heed to the offer. John Terrell was too busy trying to think how he could get out of this alive or at least warn the men on the train. Alexandra would be livid he’d gotten into this mess, but if he got himself and her nephew killed just as she had found him, she’d kill John herself. John Terrell looked around furtively with his one eye that was not swollen shut. He’d taken beatings and been in dangerous situations before, but never had he ever thought until this moment that his luck might have run out. Then, he remembered on what Ezra Standish had pontificated at length one day. The gambler had been preaching to the twins that a man or woman made his or her own luck. John Terrell believed in this premise, and it only took several seconds before he decided to go with the plan that began to take shape as Bo Destry was good enough to explain his whole plot to him.
Roger Destry was a fool and a hothead. It was a dangerous combination, but a combination John Terrell could use to his advantage. He took a deep breath and pulled his aching body into an upright position. That he was getting too old for this shit was the first thing that came to mind as John put his plan into motion. He leaned heavily against the cell bars.
“I hope your brother is paying you a great deal of money to kill me. It might come in handy when he decides you aren’t of any more use to him.”
Roger turned and started toward the cell. “Shut up! My brother is a great man!”
“He’s nothing but a two bit coward hiding behind his little brother. You don’t see him getting his hands dirty. He leaves that to fools like you.”
That had the desired effect as Roger came to close to the cell. A hand snaked out, and the next thing he knew, Roger Destry was pulled up against the cell door. Terrell, who had until this point been playing possum, had the younger man with a grip around his neck like a vise. Roger couldn’t yell, couldn’t struggle, couldn’t breathe. He sank slowly to the ground as John Terrell never once loosened his grip. Once the younger man was unconscious, Terrell dropped him like a rock and grabbed the keys hanging on Roger’s belt. He took little time in trussing him up and tossing him into the cell. Then, grabbing a rifle, Roger’s jacket and hat, John let himself out the back door. He ran right into Harold Bristow, the foreman at the job sight. The big man beamed.
“I told the boys you’d find a way, boss!”
“I have to warn the men on the train and get the hell out of here!”
“We got ya covered, John. Someone’s takin’ care of warnin’ the men on the train. We put the signal out to slow down almost to a stop and then keep on goin’. Burt’s the engineer. He’ll recognize the signal. Now, let’s get you to the junction and on the train where you’ll be safe.” With that information, John Terrell let his men take him to the horses. This signal was an old Terrell trick used back when others had tried to stop him from building his railroad. With his prisoner gone Destry had to try for the gold. There was little protection beyond this point, but it would force Destry out of his safe little town and out into the open where he couldn’t hide his true intentions. Terrell had fought and beaten better men, but he had always had his brother by his side. With Mark dead, John had to trust someone else to watch his back, and he knew of no better men than the seven men from Four Corners. God! How he loved a good fight. John felt better already.
Chris waited impatiently for the train to pull to a stop. Vin and Ezra were on either side of him ready to step after him onto the platform when Caleb Jenkins opened the door and urgently motioned the men back into the car. They did as he asked and were amazed when the train picked up speed and kept going. Chris saw a man yelling and gesturing at the train, and a bullet crashed through the glass of one of the windows. Another bullet crashed through the other window, and this one ricocheted off of the oil lamp shattering it. Vin took aim and a man fell from his perch onto the overhang of the building clutching his shoulder. Buck joined him as did Ezra and Josiah at the other window. Chris took the back door, and JD and Nathan took up positions at the door between the private car and the car carrying the gold.
“May I ask what someone or everyone did to procure this fine greeting?” Ezra fired a shot at a man who was running toward the engine. The man faltered, effectively tripping the man in close pursuit behind him. The train gathered speed and lurched forward causing Vin’s aim to go wild.
“Nice shot. You got the sign over the bank.” Buck took aim and the train car betrayed his aim as well. The bell hanging over the train depot moved and emitted a frantic clanging.
“Great, you killed the bell.” Buck laughed, and this time one of Destry’s deputies stumbled under the impact of a well-aimed bullet and fell to the ground lifeless.
Vin took aim again, and the horses being gathered for the pursuit stampeded through the town forcing the men to find better cover. He flashed a very self-satisfied smirk in Buck’s direction. The train picked up speed and the shooting stopped. Buck slapped him on the back. They joined Ezra and Josiah in looking around the private car. Broken glass was all over the floor as was the oil from several broken lamps. JD looked around as he came back into the middle of the room. He shook his head and looked at Chris.
“Everyone okay?” Nathan had already pulled his bag of medical supplies out from under the cabinet where he’d stashed it earlier. All looked each other over checking to make certain they had no more than minor injuries. Vin had a gash across his hand from broken glass. Buck had another similar cut across his arm. Nathan took out his carbolic and some bandages. Josiah had a spot bleeding right between his left eye and cheek where a piece of glass had imbedded itself into the skin. Ezra was untouched, but he started sneezing again. Nathan handed him a handkerchief.
“What happened?” JD asked.
“That’s what I’d like to know. Caleb?” Chris did not look happy. So much for uneventful.
The older man put down the rifle that he had taken from one of the racks along the wall. “I’m in the dark as much as you, ‘cept I been workin’ for John Terrell for twelve years now. Burt, the engineer, and me both saw the signal for trouble. Someone will paint a yellow ‘X’ or hang a yellow scarf off the water tower. It means there’s trouble and don’t stop.”
“I didn’t see no yellow sign.” JD looked over to see if anyone else had. Josiah and Nathan shook their heads that they had not seen the sign either. Buck shrugged his shoulders.
“I saw a yellow scarf as we were pulling out.” Ezra spoke first.
“I wondered why that yellow scarf was hanging there. Vin?” Chris looked over at Vin.
“I saw it, too.” The tracker looked back at Caleb. “What kind of trouble?”
“Usually meant Indians or outlaws. Could mean that there were folks lurkin’ around that didn’t want us to build a railroad, or keep it once we built it. We had some real rough times, but Mr. John and his brother always fought hard. I even saw Mrs. Terrell pick up a rifle once. Boys, that lady’s got some aim.”
Buck elbowed Vin when he saw his friend grin at the description of his aunt. Ezra winked at JD who was grinning along with everyone else.
“Must run in the family,” was all Josiah said about the matter.
“Anyways, the signal means don’t stop, keep goin’. We’ll look for ‘em along the tracks. They’ll be waitin’ at a safe spot five miles up the track to tell us what’s goin’ on or for us to pick ‘em up.”
“You think Destry wants the gold?” Buck looked around to see if anyone else had the same thoughts. They all did.
“Yeah, but why try and take it and kill us with a whole town to watch?” Josiah didn’t like where these thoughts were headed. He’d seen towns controlled by crooked sheriffs. Usually, if the sheriff was bad news, he’d long ago run out any decent folk. That could mean a lot of trouble for them in the two days of wilderness they had to travel through to get to Brecken where an altogether different lawman from Destry worked.
“Hell, I was beginnin’ to like trains.” Vin knew exactly what Josiah was thinking.
“This could get real ugly.”
“And you do hate ugly don’t ya, Buck.” JD was grateful for the small touch of levity. It didn’t make him feel any less scared, but it did ease the knot in his gut some knowing his friends all felt the same.
Chris nodded. “Destry ain’t gonna let this go. No matter what his reason, if he wants the gold and us dead, he’ll follow us. Best set up a watch and send someone with Burt up front.”
Nathan volunteered as he extracted the small sliver of glass from Josiah’s skin. He held a carbolic soaked cloth to the spot to stop the bleeding. “Hold this tight till it stops bleeding. Should close up real soon.” He handed the rest of the bandages to Ezra who was cleaning Buck’s arm while Caleb was cleaning the gash on Vin’s hand. “I’ll go up front.”
“I’ll go with him.” JD grabbed the rifle Buck handed him and the box of cartridges. “I’ll come straight back if anyone shows up.”
“I’ll go with him so Nathan and Burt won’t be the only ones up front when JD comes back.” Josiah picked up one of the other rifles.
Chris opened the door for them as they moved forward. “Watch your backs.”
The three men nodded and moved forward. It was going to be a long five miles.
Bo Destry was angry, blood boiling, killing rage angry. "What the hell happened here?" His words produced men scrambling everywhere to find answers. The only one brave enough to face Bo's wrath was Ethan Destry.
"Don't know. No one's in the depot. Door was locked and everything was shut down like they knew the train wouldn't be stopping. No sign of the ticket clerk or any of the porters at all."
So enraged that the train had not stopped and the seven men had escaped along with the fifteen thousand, the sheriff had not even bothered to go back to the jail and see if his orders were carried out. He knew John Terrell was dead for Roger always carried out his orders. Now he had one very rich and powerful corpse he had to explain. He needed to catch the murderers of John Terrell and hang them before any of Terrell’s nosy friends and family showed up to ask any embarrassing and incriminating questions. He needed to catch up to the train and get those seven men. Destry moved swiftly to implement a new plan that would leave him rich and free.
Al had been shot, and although alive, he was useless to Destry now. Two deputies were also injured and useless; one was dead. He needed a posse now, so he sent his brother Mike to gather men from the town. If the seven got away and US marshals came asking questions, this whole town could get shut down and the men sent to prison for all the shady dealings they had turned over the past five years. Destry and his brothers would hang if the law started looking for the real murderers of John Terrell. Ordering Ethan to send out a telegram to all the surrounding areas alerting them that the seven men from Four Corners had stolen the gold and killed John Terrell, the sheriff gathered his posse and started issuing orders.
“We can catch them at Deer Creek. I want those seven men dead, and I want that gold. Where's Roger?” They were one hour behind the train, but with all the rains and melting snow lately, the train would be moving slowly through the area. There were several places they could easily catch up with the train in the next forty-eight hours between Crosby and Brecken, but the best spot was at Deer Creek. They could cut cross-country and stop the train at the Deer Creek Crossing. The train would slow down in that area and it would make it easier for Destry and his men to stop the train. Once it was stopped they could burn the men out of the train car. His satisfactory back up plan pleased him; but, as he gathered his reins to ride out, he was stopped by Ethan’s shout.
“Bo, you better get over here, now!”
Ethan rarely lost his stoic countenance, so when he got this excited it usually meant something important had happened. The hair on the back of his neck started to rise. Destry knew that somehow, some way, something had gone wrong. If Roger had done anything to alter his plans, he’d kill the boy himself. He stalked into the jail and an ominous calm came over him. It was as if a deep memory was being replayed all over again, almost as if he was watching the destruction of all he held dear once more. There was no body anywhere with the exception of his youngest brother lying on the cot of the cell trussed up like a chicken on a spit. John Terrell was nowhere in sight. The man had vanished right out from underneath his nose. Then the rage returned full fold. He was going to wipe out that entire camp of railroad workers before this was over, and he would personally kill John Terrell himself. He stalked over and grabbed his brother by the collar and jerked him up to eye level. He wrapped his hands around the younger man's neck and held him up off the floor.
“What the hell happened here? Where’s Terrell?”
Roger struggled to speak, but his brother had cut off his air supply. He looked like a fish out of water until Ethan intervened.
"Let him go, Bo." Two years younger, Ethan was the closest in age and experience to Bo. If the sheriff listened to anyone it was to Ethan. Reluctantly he dropped their youngest brother, so that his feet no longer dangled beneath him. He stayed where he was though with Roger sandwiched between the unforgiving wall and his equally unforgiving brother. The younger man had never felt more mortal than now. He gulped in the air and tried to speak in a normal tone, but his voice shook with fear.
"He n-n-nearly k-k-killed me, Bo! He was slumped against the bars t-t-talkin' trash about you an' then I w-w-woke up on this here c-c-cot all tied up. That T-T-Terrell's real crafty, B-B-Bo." Roger saw the rage boil over again and then nothing more as a huge hand connected with the side of his head. Bo looked at his unconscious brother on the floor. He felt little remorse for knocking his brother senseless, but he did refrain from shooting the worthless little shit when Ethan grabbed his gun arm. The two men stared at one another until Bo relaxed his arm.
"I ain't gonna kill him, yet. We may need a scapegoat, and he's as good a choice as any. Boy ain't got a lick a sense, and is more worthless than a tick on a dog."
"He's also our brother and loyal as hell. He'd walk across fire if you told him to, Bo. We can pull this off if we use our brains and move swiftly."
Bo finally relented. "All right, let's ride. The sooner we get those seven men the sooner we can hunt Terrell down and kill him. Those railroad people can't hide anywhere around here I can't find 'em all." The two brothers left the younger one on the floor as they left to salvage their plans. They had a train to catch and then a very wealthy snake they both wanted to cut the head off of personally. They would succeed for failure was not an option. Bo questioned Ethan about the telegrams.
"You get those wires sent off?"
"Yes. I sent them to all the towns around here except Four Corners. Figured they might try to stop us or help them. Terrell's got some powerful enemies, so I sent the word out to some ranchers I know would like to see him dead and the railroad gone. They won't show up to help us, but they'll make sure no one around here asks any questions."
Bo nodded in satisfaction. Their carefully constructed plan had only been postponed, delayed by a few days. It did not matter, though. Destry was confident all would work out in their favor in the long run. He didn't realize that two of those telegrams would reach Judge Travis in Yuma and Sheriff Johnson in Brecken. Travis and Johnson knew the relationship between the seven and Terrell and that if murder and theft had been committed, it was not the seven who were guilty. Unfortunately for Destry and even more significant was the fact that he underestimated his quarry and the people who cared about them. He didn't know the seven men from Four Corners except by reputation, and Bo Destry had no idea that Alexandra Terrell knew why her husband had come to Crosby. If anything happened to her husband or her nephew, there would be hell to pay, but Destry did not even consider the possibility that Alexandra Terrell might present an even more formidable opposition when presented with the news of the death of her husband. Having never met John Terrell's wife, he expected some pretty society lady who totally depended on a man to run her business and her life for her.
Destry didn't know that by targeting John Terrell and the seven, he had just made the worst mistake of his life. A man who would throw his own brother to the wolves for one mistake would never truly know the kind of fierce devotion and loyalty Alexandra had for her husband and her nephew and friends. It was Alexandra who had already alerted the US marshals that her husband had not sent her the wire yet assuring her of his safety and imminent return home. She had already turned over the damning evidence her husband and his men had compiled prior to his visit to Crosby to the authorities.
The telegrams from Crosby only served to alert them that the situation was worse than they had at first been willing to believe. Not even the staunchest of those men wanted to apprise Mrs. Terrell that her husband and her nephew might already be dead. Plans were set into motion, and Colonel Rickman once more led his men out of Ft. Laramie to rendezvous with a train he only knew might be in Crosby or it might be somewhere between Crosby and Brecken. Having met the seven, he could only hope they got there in time.
Alexandra Terrell was not a woman to waste time. Pacing back and forth in the hotel room in Yuma, she reached a decision. What good was being filthy rich if she couldn’t help the people she loved? Having received word from Mary Travis that Mary's telegrams to John Terrell and Chris Larabee in Crosby had not been answered any more than hers had, she had plotted and planned and tried to do everything she could to get the officials to move. Not even the exhausted messenger from the railroad construction site at Crosby could get them to act until they received word from the sheriff of Crosby that Terrell was dead and the seven responsible. Alexandra had nearly lost all her sense and her patience as the officials offered their sympathy for her loss and promised that justice would be done. She knew in her heart that John wasn’t dead. She would have felt it, known it was true, and it had taken every ounce of tact and cunning she had to make the officials believe that there just might be a chance Terrell still lived if the seven had not yet been apprehended. Orders were given and the Army was ordered to hasten to Crosby and search for the truth. So here she was, in a hotel in Yuma worried sick. That’s when she decided she could sit still no longer. With all the stubborn determination famous in her family, she packed as lightly as possible and called for one of John’s most trusted men.
Patrick O’Malley had been with John Terrell since he had found the young stowaway on board the ship bringing him from England to Texas. The young Irish lad was twelve and escaping from British justice all for the theft of a loaf of bread. Terrell and his brother had paid the boy’s fare and made certain he was well cared for and educated so much so that the young man considered John his family. He had earned the engineering degree John had wanted him to both to please his benefactor and because engines of any kind fascinated him. He already knew how to do things with explosives that no child should have known, but John Terrell saved that ingenious mind from falling under the wrong influence. With John’s encouragement, the young man had built a reputation in the railroad industry that would have guaranteed him wealth and respect wherever he chose to go. Instead he matched Terrell’s loyalty and faith in him with a fierce and unshakable loyalty. Nearly thirty and as handsome and wealthy as his benefactor he had been instrumental in making the Southwestern Railroad Company as viable a powerhouse of industry as the Union Pacific. When Alexandra explained the situation, he didn’t hesitate.
Within an hour he had the route planned, transportation arranged, the guards hired, and the wheels in motion. He would personally escort Alexandra Terrell to Four Corners. If they took one of the smaller and swifter locomotives with only one car and stopped only to refuel with water and coal and change engineers, they could reach the small town near Four Corners within twenty-four hours. The carriage and horses under heavy guard would then proceed at a reasonable pace while he and Alexandra rode ahead to join Mary Travis and the judge in Four Corners. Brecken was within a twelve-hour ride of Four Corners, but Alexandra insisted that if John was still alive, he would go there with the seven. Having heard of these men through Henderson and the new governess, Melanie Jason, Patrick had to agree. No one had told the children anything, but Alexandra insisted they accompany her and Patrick agreed. Should the worst occur, Patrick knew that Alexandra would hold herself together for her children. Their decision to leave coincided with the meeting of a very much alive John Terrell and a group of men who knew trouble was coming but had no clue as to why.
Burt saw the signal at Deer Creek Crossing. The waiting locomotive with the four attached cars overflowing with armed workers had alerted him just as the yellow and red entwined flags that meant the train was safe to stop here. They were thirty minutes outside of Crosby, and Burt knew that time was of the essence if they were going to get out of whatever mess they were in. He turned to look at Josiah and shouted over the noise as his assistant shoveled coal into the fire to stoke the engine.
“This is our construction sight. It’s close enough to town for the telegraph and for the men to get some entertainment, but far enough away to keep prying eyes at bay. That’s the signal for us to stop, that it’s safe.”
Josiah nodded and turned to JD. Yelling over the noise of the locomotive, he told the young man to go back and tell the others they were stopping here. JD nodded and took off. This trip was turning out to be one wild ride and he was beginning to get caught up in the excitement of it all. Once he was gone, Josiah pulled out Vin’s spy glass to survey the situation. It was then he saw the figure of a very familiar man move out into the open. By God, it was John Terrell!
“Nathan, it’s John Terrell!”
“You’re kidding. What’s he doin’ here?”
“I don’t know, brother, but he looks like he had a run in with a train, face first.” He handed the glass to Nathan who whistled as the bruised face came into focus.
“I best go tell Vin who’s here.” Josiah nodded and motioned Nathan to go.
"Burt says it's safe here, so we won't need you right now. Go on."
Nathan quickly disappeared as Burt began slowing the train. JD had already finished his explanation when Nathan entered. He didn't wait for any questions but plunged straight ahead.
"John's here." He was looking at both Vin and Chris, but he got everyone's immediate attention.
"Terrell?" Chris now knew exactly who had caused their reception in Crosby.
"You think he had something to do with us getting' shot at?" Vin was already thinking along the same lines. So, too, was Buck.
"He's a relative of yours, Vin, of course that's why we got shot at."
"Now Mr. Wilmington, I am quite certain no one has ever had the desire to shoot Mr. Tanner simply because of his obstinate nature. As for John, I'm quite certain no one has ever succumbed to jealousy of his wealth or his influence."
"Right, and anybody can have my animal magnetism if they bathe daily."
Chris shook his head as the train came to a stop. "I don't know about you, but I think I'll go ask if he knows the reason we got shot at."
"I'm with you, cowboy. These two could talk a dead man into walkin' a mile just to get away from the sound of their voices. C'mon, JD, Nathan. Let's go find out what John did to serve up this hornet's nest." With that the men left the car and saw Josiah walking a very battered and bruised John Terrell to the private car. Several men were with him, but only John was talking. Chris looked over at Vin and saw the tightening of his jaw. If Alexandra got a good look at John right now, she would be extremely upset. That knowledge plus the fact that Vin liked and respected John a great deal only made the younger man's temper rise.
Slow to anger, Vin Tanner rarely lost his composure. That was one reason Chris trusted and relied on him so much. Vin was a calming influence on the former gunman. Watching that vein throb in his neck indicated that Vin had just developed a rare case of rage. Larabee could almost feel sorry for Sheriff Destry and his men. Almost, but since a bullet had come close enough to part his hair for him, Chris had little sympathy to spare for the sheriff. He might have to sit back and enjoy this one instead of seeking his own brand of justice. Vin Tanner in a rage was as deadly as a rattler in your bed. Bo Destry had no clue the hell that awaited his next move.
John Terrell waited until the rest of the seven joined his already interested group. Of all the men he could read Tanner best. He wondered if Vin knew how very much he was like his aunt in his temperament. He could tell by the closed mouth, the glint in his eye, and the vein throbbing in his neck that his wife’s nephew was working himself into a killing rage. Good, he wanted that devious mind of Tanner’s working overtime to get them all out of this mess. With Larabee’s help and the rest of the men present, John knew that Destry’s plan was doomed. Now the only thing left to do was make certain that Tanner's anger was directed at the correct person. He had found that a good offense often checked Alexandra’s anger enough to let him explain. Maybe it would work for his nephew as well.
“Gentlemen, it’s good to see you. I trust the gold deliveries went well?” Larabee grinned at John and stepped away to let Vin move forward. His opening line must not have been that good else Larabee wouldn’t be smiling at him like a cat that had just found a nice fat chicken sleeping in the sun.
“Went well? You smug son of a bitch! You can’t open one eye, you’re leaning to the left, we ate bullets back in Crosby, and you want to know if the deliveries went well? What were you doin’ to make us targets, John? Alexandra ain’t gonna like this one bit, and I ain’t takin’ any of her chewin’ my ear off for somethin’ you started.” There, Vin had made his position clear. The first thing his aunt would want to know was if he had been around when John was getting the shit beat out of him. The woman had a way of not believing either man was quite capable of taking care of himself without some woman mothering him to death. Nettie did enough of that. No way was he going to get into trouble for something he didn’t do.
“Now why do you think it’s my fault?” Now there were two people who could push the exact button to make John Terrell lose his famous calm. Larabee was grinning in unholy glee as were the rest of the men. John decided they didn’t have time for him to lose his temper and fight with his angry nephew although he knew exactly how Alexandra was going to react. Once she made certain he was in fact just bruised and not injured too badly, she was going to let him have it with both barrels. After shooting a poisonous look at Larabee, he sighed.
“All right, I may have made Bo Destry a little angry.” Vin snorted his disgust at that paltry excuse. “I went to investigate the claims of one of my men that the banker in Crosby was forcing my foreman to issue script instead of releasing the gold I sent for wages. When I got here, I found him dead and Harold here living under house arrest by Destry and his men. All I did was get Harold set free by threatening to remove Crosby from my network of towns where the train would stop. One minute I was walking from the hotel to wait for the train and you and the next I was in a jail cell with Destry threatening to kill me and frame you for my murder. I decided it was time to leave, so here we are.”
Chris Larabee’s grin couldn’t get any bigger. There was going to be a fight and the gunman was ready. Things had been too peaceful since Horace Winston was killed. He reminded John of himself too much. He was going to have to teach the twins to choose better guardians than they had already. With their penchant for finding trouble, these seven were going to get him into a lot of trouble, not that he was not already quite good at finding trouble himself. These men just seemed to be magnets for it. John ventured a look at his nephew only to find Vin and Ezra had both disappeared. That fact made him nervous. It must have made Chris feel the same because the grin was gone from his face. Since the unholy glee seemed to have transferred over to Buck and Josiah, John knew he really didn’t want to know to where Vin and Ezra had disappeared. Oh what the hell, he had to know.
Nathan walked up before John could turn around a look in the direction the other men were already looking. “Let’s get you into the car and check you out. Looks like you’re listin’ to one side, John.” Nathan put a hand on John’s elbow and righted him. When the railroad tycoon sucked in a sharp breath, Nathan nodded his head. “JD, why don’t you help me get this fool on the train.” John briefly thought about telling Nathan and JD what they could do with their help when a particularly sharp intake of breath caused more pain than he had felt before. Must have been the lifting he had been doing since he got here. He let the two men lead him away with one parting command.
“I told Harold to get everyone loaded on one car and couple it with this one, so we can leave as soon as possible.”
“Why can’t they get on the car with the gold? Then we don’t have to waste any more time. Destry and his boys should be right behind us.” Chris made a good point, and Nathan and JD stopped as John turned around to talk to him.
“Chris, you best send Buck and Josiah after those two an’ c’mon with us. I can’t wrap his ribs if he’s gonna stay out here jawin’ with you.”
Josiah and Buck took off before Chris could countermand that order. He really had to reassert himself upon occasion, and let these six know who really was in charge. “Shoot ‘em if you have to,” was all Chris shouted the backs of Buck and Josiah. A waved hand from Buck indicated he’d heard. Chris turned to frown at John Terrell. “Let’s go make some plans before Destry shows up. I want as much space between him and us as possible. It’s a long way to Brecken.”
They walked back to the private car and got there just as Buck and Josiah found Vin and Ezra. Josiah grabbed hold of Buck’s arm to stop him for a moment. Buck was glad he did as the two men in front of him continued arguing with the two men who were loading explosives onto the train car with the gold.
“We just need a box of that.”
“And some fusing, we definitely will find use for several feet of fusing and several blasting caps.” Ezra was as determined as Vin to get one of the boxes marked TNT. Josiah shook with silent laughter. Chris was going to have a fit. He didn’t dare look at Buck for he knew the ladies’ man trying desperately not to break a rib from laughing. Harold Bristow came up right then. He could not understand why these men were standing here laughing as the other two tried to appropriate the dynamite.
“What do you gentlemen need with a box of dynamite, fusing, and blasting caps?”
“That’s what we’d like to know. Chris wants you two back over at the car now.”
Ezra shot Josiah a quelling frown. “We are going to arrange a welcome for the wayward lawmen of Crosby. With this dynamite and a few gold coins, we hope to encourage a few of Destry’s men to desert.”
“If the gold don’t work as a,” Vin looked at Ezra and grinned, “deterrent, then the dynamite will.”
Josiah and Buck looked at each other and then at Bristow. Surely he wouldn’t sanction this outrageous idea? They were sorely mistaken as the older man looked at Vin and Ezra with amused appreciation. Here were two rascals after his own heart.
“You know, that might not be such a bad idea. Why don’t you boys explain it to me while these boys finish getting’ these explosives out of Destry’s hands.”
Harold put an arm around Vin and Ezra’s shoulders and started firing questions at the two sounding out their plan.
“He looks positively, sorry Buck for using an Ezra word, but he looks positively rapturous.” Josiah looked worried. “In fact all three of them do. I think we need to pray Chris don’t get wind of this.”
“I think we need to pray that Chris don’t kill ‘em before Destry does.”
“Amen to that, brother.”
Buck and Josiah had no sooner closed the compartment door behind them when Chris and John asked where Vin and Ezra were. The two men looked at one another then back at the waiting men.
“Well, they’re with Harold Bristow right now discussing gold and dynamite and surprises.” Josiah waited patiently for the Larabee explosion. Buck moved over to the side and leaned against the wall next to the map Chris had been studying. He, too, had seen the look of confusion on his old friend’s face when Josiah had said they were discussing gold. Then, he watched silently as Josiah said dynamite. The rapid change from puzzled to rage almost made Buck dizzy. John Terrell’s head had snapped around quickly at the mention of dynamite. Neither man looked pleased and Buck would have laughed in anticipation if not for the fact they were all in a lot of trouble. He knew as well as Vin and Ezra how serious things had gotten, and he was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since their exhibition in Brecken when they were trying to elude Clay Ainsley. However, he wasn't Chris.
Chris was livid. Those two had promised Chris they would leave the dynamite alone unless in dire emergencies, but Chris also knew they could turn a baptism into a dire emergency with the way their devious minds tended to work alike when they were inspired. He looked over at John Terrell who answered his unspoken question.
“Harold could write his name on the side of a mountain using dynamite and leave the mountain still standing if he wanted to. If he’s got an enthusiastic audience, Bo Destry could fall out of tree right on top of him and he wouldn’t notice.”
Chris glared at Josiah and Buck for not shooting the two and dragging them back. “You almost finished with John, Nathan?”
“Yeah, just let me tie off this here wrapping, an’ you can go get those three before they blow themselves up.” Nathan did not want to dig any bullets out, so he let John get up to go with Chris. They had just reached the door when it was pulled open by Vin Tanner. He ignored the Larabee glare and walked past him to get to John.
“Hey, John? Can we have about a thousand dollars in those gold coins? We got a plan.”
Chris shot the same glare at Ezra who returned it with a raised eyebrow that bespoke his innocence. Chris shook his head in resignation and stepped back to allow Bristow into the compartment as well.
“You really gonna set a trap like the powder man?” JD was beside himself with excitement. He had no idea why Chris and the others always got on to Vin and Ezra for dabbling in explosives. Ezra could already fire a canon and knew stuff about explosives that he had taught Vin, so JD felt it was only a matter of time before he could ask them to teach him. A sheriff needed to know how to blow stuff up just in case some bad element wanted to use dynamite as a weapon. Then, he would know just what to do to stop the criminal. Now, Buck had already told him what a lousy idea it was, so he decided to tell his idea to Vin and Ezra. They would appreciate his logic.
“Now, Mr. Dunne, I would hesitate to compare Mr. Tanner and myself to that nefarious criminal we vanquished. I prefer to think of it as a means with which to even the odds or better slow down the opposition. Would you agree, gentlemen?”
Vin and Harold agreed. Chris and John thought they were all crazy. JD was still trying to figure out what Ezra had just said and Buck was doing the same. Josiah reacted to the look of disgust on Nathan’s face and burst out laughing.
“You said we needed a plan.” Chris looked at Josiah in amazement and then finally grinned.
“You’re right, Josiah, I did.” He turned to look at Vin and Ezra. “What have you two conned Mr. Bristow into?”
John Terrell sighed in resignation. “I doubt they conned him into anything. Harold probably conned them. Now why should I let you have a thousand dollars in gold coins.”
“I think they’re insulting us.”
“I believe they are, but in the interest of expediting our departure, I believe we should postpone retaliation until we return home.”
Harold Bristow really liked these boys. They were cunning and smart. “These boys came up with a plan to delay the men riding after us. We took the other rail car and rigged it to explode when someone opens it. During the explosion, the coins will be catapulted into the air making Destry and his men stop to search for the rest of the gold. If it doesn’t do anything but buy us some time, it’s worth it. Hell, John, I’ll even pay you back out of my salary.”
John Terrell looked at the men in front of him. “You three have already used the gold, haven’t you?” When they nodded yes, the rest of the men in the private car burst out laughing. Terrell glared at them this time. “I suppose then it’s quite all right for you three to squander a thousand dollars.”
“Now John, think of it as financing a new business partnership. Me and Ezra just might have to go into business with Harold here. He knows things about dynamite even Ezra ain’t heard of.” Vin was enjoying himself. Finally, they were going to see some action after the last two weeks of boredom. Life was getting mighty dull now that he didn’t have to keep a constant watch over his shoulder looking out for bounty hunters. Not that life had gotten unbearably boring, it was just the seven were doing too good a job of cleaning up what Mary called the bad element. He looked around and saw his joke was only appreciated by Harold and Ezra. "It was a joke," he added hastily as Chris's hand wavered over his gun. Sometimes the man took this big brother concern to the extreme, and now John Terrell was acting like an uncle. Damn, how would they react when they found out they used two thousand in gold coins to make it look really good. Vin smiled at both of them, and changed the subject.
"Harold says they got everything ready to go. He's got five men with rifles guardin' the engineers, and the rest stationed between this car and on the gold car. We'll take care of this car."
"We won't need another car?"
"No sir, John. I sent everyone but these volunteers out yesterday when they took you with all the expensive equipment and most of the rail cars. They should be half way to Brecken by now." Bristow had it all under control. "It'll be a fight, but we got enough men to give them a fight now, and with these boys' scheme, we might just lower the numbers more."
Chris was listening intently. "We need to get to Deer Creek as soon as possible. If he can catch up to us, it will be across country by horse. Best place would be here where you said we'd have to go real slow because of high water." He pointed to the map while the others gathered round to look. He knew Vin thought he had succeeded in changing the subject, but Chris was determined to set specific ground rules about dynamite with those two later. They were getting too damned good at finding a way around his orders, and they were having a bad influence on the twins and Billy and Jamie, hell JD for that matter. He needed to have a chat with both of them, separately so he could give each one his undivided attention. If Buck encouraged them any more, he'd shoot him, too. Now they had to keep alive long enough for him to have that chat with the boys.
"What say we get this train movin'?" Chris grinned in anticipation. Terrell was right. Bo Destry wanted Terrell and the seven dead, and he wanted the gold. However, he was the one who would be trapped when his greed forced him to check the rail car for the gold. The car was identical to the one in which they had carried the gold into Crosby. If he survived the little surprise the powder boys set up for him, he would find out he was going to have to fight to get what he wanted, and the crooked sheriff had underestimated the railroad men and the seven men from Four Corners. It was just one of many mistakes that would come home to roost when and if Destry caught up with the train and the armed men. Chris actually had a moment where he wished he could see the look on Destry's face when the car exploded his gold into the air. Just thinking about it brought that feral grin to Larabee's face.
"I do believe you are looking forward to meeting Sheriff Destry, Mr. Larabee."
Chris turned eyes of green ice on Harold Bristow and answered him. "Oh yeah. I want to meet this man face to face. Nobody tries to kill my men and gets away with it. He wants to kill any of my men, he has to go through me first."
Now Bristow knew why John Terrell liked and trusted these men so much. Alone, each man was a formidable foe. Chris Larabee's glare alone was enough to make brave men tremble in fear, and those two who were fascinated by explosives had the potential to cause a lot of damage if they ever decided to. However, there was something about them that made you trust them despite their appearances. Even the youngest member of the group appeared more than just competent if you saw the respect he was given by the older and more seasoned members of the group. From the healer to the leader, these men were a symbol of justice that this 'Wild West' needed.
Together, these seven men were downright terrifying to their enemies. Harold was infinitely glad that he was on their side. He took his cue from John Terrell and left the car to give the word to leave. As he shut the rail car door he heard the man they called Buck ribbing John Terrell about how much grief he'd get once Mrs. Terrell got wind of this. Harold laughed when he heard another man declare there would be hell to pay, but would there really? He remembered a time when John had been badly wounded, and Alexandra had picked up his rifle and shot the bandit who had shot her husband. She nailed him twenty yards away as he rode past. That lady sure had a temper when she was riled, but the only thing that would make her angry this time was that she got left out of this fight.
Where else could he work for such a good wage and get free entertainment? No where else for anyone else, so Harold was determined to make certain he still had a job two days from now when they reached Brecken, not if they reached Brecken. Bo Destry would not win this fight. Harold had seven very good reasons why Destry would lose.
Less than two hours after the train had departed from Crosby, Destry and his men approached the now abandoned construction site. The cross-country route had been rough on the horses, but Destry cared little for that. They had made good time on the train, and could still catch it at Deer Creek Crossing if they wasted little time.
Along the way he had accumulated five more men who were looking for easy money and little or no fight. There were nearly thirty men riding with Destry, fifteen of whom were known killers who paid Destry for his protection with their services. Roger Destry and his wounded brother Al were both riding with the posse. Roger wanted to redeem himself in his older brother’s eyes, and Al was along to ensure that his hotheaded brother did nothing to entice Bo to shoot him. Seeing the car that looked exactly like the one carrying the gold into Crosby, Roger didn’t stop to think it might be a decoy. One of the last things Roger was heard to say was yelling he would get Bo the gold.
Al followed to advise caution while the five men looking for easy money followed closely behind. Sheriff Destry did nothing to stop his younger brothers from securing the gold for him. It seemed that Terrell had left the gold shipment in hopes that Destry would accept it and let them go. He laughed as he concluded they still had enough time to catch the train when it had to slow down the nearer it got to Deer Creek Crossing. He would leave Al and Roger here to guard the gold. If the five men who had joined them presented a problem, he knew Roger and Al would kill them without a second thought. Roger had taken his gun from its holster and shot the lock off. After removing the heavy chain, he put his hand on the handle with which to open the door.
Bo Destry was thinking of the ways he would kill Terrell when Ethan suddenly grabbed his arm. “Call him back, Bo! This is too damned easy!”
He was right, but it was too late. The rail car exploded hurling hundreds of gold coins into the air. Some hit the group of men with the force of bullets. Neither man nor beast was spared the carnage. Horses screamed in pain and terror bolting in any direction trying to flee to safety. Men and animals were left flailing about on the ground. Bo managed to stay on his horse, but he heard a swift intake of breath next to him as Ethan suddenly dropped his reins and clutched at the gaping hole where his skin once covered his neck. The handle from the door was imbedded deep into his throat, and with a shocked look at his brother, Ethan Destry fell lifeless from his horse.
Bo was in a state of shock, disbelieving that this was reality until he looked over in the direction from which the explosion had come. Al was lying on the ground apparently untouched if you didn’t notice his head was lying at an impossible angle to his body. He appeared to be looking completely back over his right shoulder. Roger was staring at his elbow where once the rest of his arm had been attached. Covered in filthy gore and blood Bo could only make out Roger’s face when the younger man opened his mouth to start screaming in pain and horror. Another man touched his arm pulling him around to face him. It was his other brother Mike. Like Bo, Mike was untouched as were a number of the men who knew the car had carried fifteen thousand in gold. They were scrambling among the dead and wounded shoving bodies and men begging for help out of their way as they clawed and dug for the gold pieces.
Bo’s certainty of victory crashed down around him as a white-hot rage enveloped him. “Terrell set us up! There aren’t enough coins here for fifteen thousand in gold!” He took his gun from his holster and shot the man next to him who was shoving Ethan’s body out of his way in order to look for gold coins on the ground where his body had fallen. Five dirty and blood smeared coins fell from the greedy man’s lifeless fingers. The gunshot brought more than order with it. Even the wounded were silent as Destry walked his horse towards what was left of the burning car. Order somewhat restored, Destry surveyed the damage. The five men who had joined them and gone with Roger to open the gold car were nowhere to be found. They had caught the brunt of the exploding rail car and paid with their lives for their lazy greed. Of the thirty men Destry had had in his posse, ten men were dead two of whom were his brothers. Another ten men were useless to him either wounded too badly to ride or too busy trying to scrape gold coins out of the gore and the dirt. His youngest brother raised his tear-streaked face to look upon his older brother with the one eye he could still see from for the other no longer existed.
“Bbbbo? Mmmmike?” Destry turned expressionless eyes on his stupid and pain wracked brother one final time and then turned his horse and his back to him. The younger man tried once more to call for help that was apparently not coming. Mike shook his head sadly saying nothing as he turned to join his older brother. This was all that young hot-head’s fault as he never learned to think before jumping into action. Neither man flinched as one single gunshot broke the silence, and the remaining two Destry brothers rode back across the bloody field to the eight men who had formed up silently into one line to await their orders. The wounded would have to save themselves because if Destry would turn his back on his own brother, who knew who what he would do to any man who deserted him now.
Destry looked hard at his remaining men. “I want John Terrell brought to me alive. He’s mine to kill, and if any man kills him before I can, I’ll tear out his liver with my bare hands. You understand me?” The men said nothing. John Terrell’s life or death meant little to them, but each valued his own life highly.
“What about those seven men with him?”
“I want them dead, too. I’ll pay five hundred in gold for the head of each man.” Having been offered five hundred for each man they killed was reason enough for the eight men to ride with Destry. Nodding their acceptance of his terms, they awaited further orders. “We ride now. Take any extra horse you can find that’s still sound. We’re goin’ to Deer Creek Crossing. Any man who can’t keep up had better be prepared to die.” With that, Destry dug his spurs into his horse’s flanks and rode away. Mike snagged the reins of two riderless horses, and followed his brother. The other men responded more slowly now it dawned on them that they were riding into hell itself behind no less a personage than Lucifer; only Lucifer was calling himself Bo Destry these days.
Ezra Standish was in hell, and he had company. Buck Wilmington was his partner in sharing this hellacious affliction young Mr. Dunne had seen fit to inflict upon the men he called friends. Friends, hell. The boy was a menace to his friends for why else would he try to spread this horrible head cold to as many of his friends in this confined space as possible. Nathan had been right when he predicted the others would eventually succumb to the same affliction that JD had so generously shared with Nathan and Josiah. Josiah, he had warned Ezra that his penance for all his bad deeds would one day catch up to him. Forget the men chasing them. Ezra could not breath out of his nose at all, nor could he breathe the death fumes filtering back into the private car via the window JD had opened. Penance his southern aristocratic gentleman’s ass. This was worse than penance. It was hell itself in all its glorified suffering. If he didn’t feel so bad he just might shoot JD, but Buck might take exception to that drastic but oh so satisfying notion that was beginning to take shape in his cold ridden oxygen deprived brain. Then he heard Buck sneeze and cough at the same time. It reminded Ezra that Buck must feel as bad as he did, so shooting JD might afford the con man a grim sort of satisfaction after all.
“Want some of this tea Nathan just fixed, Ezra?” Did the damnable boy have to be so helpful? It would certainly dim the pleasure Ezra planned on achieving when he shot the enthusiastic young man.
Ezra opened one bloodshot eye and saw a grinning Nathan and an eager JD looking at him. “Thank you, Mr. Dunne, Mr. Jackson, but I do believe I am dying quite satisfactorily without torturing myself any further with hot ditch water.” His stopped up nose made his voice sound like it came out of a tunnel far beneath the earth even to his own stopped up ears. This wasn’t fair. Ezra hadn’t cheated or conned anyone but miscreants and felons over the last year, but the heat racking his body still made him feel like he was living in hell.
“Ya know, mix a little sugar an’ some blackberry into that ditch water an’ it might not taste so bad.” Vin was at least trying to help.
“Well, why don’t I pour it in a cup that’s already half brandy, too?” Nathan was getting a rather surly and sarcastic bite to his words lately.
“Do you people have to yammer so much over there? A man likes to die in peace and quiet.” Vin, Nathan, JD, and even Ezra all turned to look at Buck who was lying upon the couch with a cup of Nathan’s willow bark tea steaming in his hand.
“Shut up, Buck,” was said in unison by four men. Chris and Josiah looked at each other from the windows where they were standing guard and laughed. John Terrell looked out from under the steak he had pressed to one eye. He checked out what was going on and then covered his eye again with the raw steak.
Buck tried to sniff indignantly through his nose, but all the stopped up nostrils would emit were off key honking sounds. It did, however, allow some of the steam to penetrate his stopped up nose. Was that a momentary puff of air he felt? Holding the steaming cup under his nose opened Buck’s stopped up nasal passages and allowed him to breathe, not much, but enough to cause him to look with new respect upon Nathan’s nasty tasting concoction. He drank a bit and the steamy liquid slid down his raw throat. He thought he had just died and gone to heaven. If Ezra hadn’t been so rude to him by telling him to shut up, Buck might have shared his discovery of paradise in this sea of misery. Since he didn’t look in the least remorseful, Buck decided to keep the information to himself. Maybe, just maybe he would allow Ezra to pay him for the information later when Ezra was down to his last suffering breath like Buck was. No sense in not getting some of his money back from all those times he lost to Ezra in one of their friendly games.
Ezra might have been in hell, but he wasn’t yet so lost to the call of the grim reaper that his sharp eye did not notice the imperceptible change in Buck or the sublime smile of pleasure as he sipped the steaming brew. Keeping a suspicious eye on the smug looking healer, Ezra took the cup of willow bark tea. He held the steaming cup close as he started to take a sip of the bitter brew. He, too, felt the steam penetrate his stopped up nasal passages. Ezra sighed. Then, he grudgingly sipped the bitter brew. Like Buck, he marveled at the pleasure the hot liquid provided his abused throat. Then it hit him. Buck was not going to share this miraculous elixir with him. The brute, that selfish, obnoxious oaf was going to keep this information to himself until Ezra was probably lying at death’s door and would then pay handsomely for relief. It was positively diabolical. Ezra puffed up in pride that his influence was extending to his friends. What more could a man want, except an incredibly obscene amount of money, his very own gambling establishment, and an incredibly beautiful lady with the morals of a courtesan? No head cold, Ezra would give it all up for just one minute of relief from that pounding stuffiness in his head. His misery was cut sort by the opening of the door allowing more of the coal fumes into the car. Buck and Ezra both started sneezing, but they still heard Caleb Jenkins’ announcement.
“We’ll be slowing down now. Got to watch out for debris on the tracks from the snows melting. Burt says we’ll be pullin’ in to Deer Creek Crossin’ in about a half hour.”
“Tell Burt to stop right at the bridge so we can check it for explosives. Who knows,” John added in a sarcastic tone, “they might have their own explosives experts.” Only Larabee, Jackson, and Sanchez truly appreciated the snide comment. Ezra and Buck were too near death to care, and Vin had no need to express his righteous indignation. JD did that for him.
“Hey, Vin. Did John just insult you?”
“Yeah, kid, I think he called me somethin’ that means the same thing as a cowboy.” He looked over and let a slow grin spread across his face as Chris looked over and grinned back. He touched his forefinger to his hat in imitation of Ezra’s salute. Vin picked up his mare’s leg and spyglass and took his position next to Chris at the window.
“I reckon if they come, they’ll come from those hills back there.”
“I reckon they will. I guess we’d best keep alert.” Chris turned to look out the window as the train slowed to a crawl. Both men saw the debris littering the tracks. If Deer Creek Crossing hadn’t offered the shortest distance across the river, John Terrell would never have taken the train through Crosby. Now, he regretted not spending the extra twenty-five thousand it would have taken to build a longer bridge, but he vowed that when he finished, no one five years from now would remember Crosby ever existed. John was a fair man, but he also was ruthless when anyone threatened his family or anyone who worked for him. As far as he was concerned, Destry and his crooked little town were history.
JD Dunne was lying across the top of the private rail car just as the bridge at Deer Creek Crossing came into view. With the train slowing down to make its ponderous way through the branches and rocks the overflowing banks of the river had left behind from the spring rains of a week ago, JD had climbed on up to his perch on top of the car. Vin had handed him the spyglass as he had dropped down to a prone position like Buck and John and all the others for that matter had instructed him well over a hundred times after he had volunteered to watch the hills for signs of Destry. Two rapid gunshots were the signal if he spotted anyone. He’d been here all of fifteen minutes and had seen no signs of life. The train was making labored noises as it fought the slow pace the engineer had adopted. The slow pace made JD sleepy, so he raised up to a sitting position and sat cross-legged on top of the car. He glanced behind him to the front of the train for just a moment and saw yet another man standing on what appeared to be a similar perch on top of the second rail car behind the actual locomotive. He was the forward spotter, looking for debris and any signs of Destry and his men. This train ride was becoming rather sedate, but JD had learned enough about this wilderness to know things could change in a heartbeat.
It did not make the wait go any faster, but it made him think about his home in Four Corners. It had indeed been the luckiest day of his life when he had jumped from the stagecoach to follow Vin Tanner and Chris Larabee on their way to save Nathan Jackson from a lynch mob. JD could not express in words the feelings he had for these men and women in this rowdy little town who had essentially become his family. Always it had been JD and his mom, and his mother’s death had been devastating because it had left JD all alone. That changed in Four Corners. Buck had adopted him that first week and had since, if not somewhat heavy-handed at times, taught JD so many things about surviving in this harsh land that JD didn’t think he could ever repay Buck.
The others had taught him as well, but in many ways it was by deed instead of the lectures Buck was always giving him. Chris and Vin especially had taught more with a gesture, a word here or there, and sometimes just a look than all the college courses JD’s mother had so wanted her son to attend. Even Ezra taught JD by example some things he should know and some behaviors he needed to watch out for and avoid. Ezra and Vin were the best at sizing up a man within a split second. So too were Chris and Josiah. Nathan and Josiah taught that sometimes violence was the only answer, but they tempered that violence with a compassion that was downright astounding. All of these men taught JD what Judge Travis meant when he spoke about justice. It was both an honor and a blessing to be one of the seven. It was also a pain in the ass when every five minutes a head would stick up over the edge to see if he was still there. Buck interrupted JD’s silent musings when he asked if he had seen anything yet.
“Yeah, Buck. I seen a hundred men blazin’ a fiery trail behind them they’re ridin’ so fast down the hill. I would a warned ya, but I got shot off the top here.” His deadpanned sarcasm earned him a snort of disgust and an admonition to watch his mouth, but JD just laughed and put the spyglass back to his eye. He ignored Buck until a fit of sneezing drove the older man back into the rail car. He returned to his earlier thoughts with pleasure. About whom had he been thinking?
The ladies in town, that’s where his mind had wandered to. The first woman, well girl who popped into his mind was none other than Casey Wells. JD knew someday he would marry Casey, but for now he was content to be friends under the watchful gaze of Nettie Wells. The older woman had adopted the seven men, especially Vin and JD. She was a real piece of work who made even Ezra tip his hat in respect. Mary was as beautiful as she was stubborn; the perfect mate for Chris Larabee if the two would quit beating around the bush and just give in to their feelings.
Then there were the women in town who liked the seven men and had decided they needed a woman in town to remind them that they were still wild and woolly and that they needed a civilizing influence. Mrs. Potter and Mrs. Bridger, until her untimely death, had done a wonderful job getting the seven men accepted by the town with the way they doted on the men. Now, there was Mrs. B or Mrs. Beecham. Mrs. B was the identical twin sister of Mrs. Bridger. She even cooked the same way as her twin. JD had heard of twins, but he had never met any until the Terrell twins. Just thinking of those little hellions made him smile. Then another memory surfaced and he laughed in delight at it. Squinting, he looked through the spyglass because he thought he saw movement at the top of one of the hills behind him. He quickly surveyed the area. Seeing nothing, he allowed his mind to recapture the memory that had so delighted him.
He and Vin had been skipping breakfast a lot since the death of Mrs. Bridger. No one in the poor woman’s family could boil water, and a week of burned biscuits that looked more like flattened shot gun shells had made the board part of room and board torturous to say the least. They had been out of town for several days returning the two men they had captured who had escaped from the jail at Eagle Bend. They were hungry and the actual enticing aroma of heavenly pot roast wafting through the air as they walked past the boarding house had made them stop in the middle of the boardwalk. They had taken one look at one another and walked in. Then, much to the amusement of Chris Larabee and Josiah Sanchez, JD and Vin nearly passed out when the ghost of Mrs. Bridger had walked right up to them and welcomed them in. She recognized them from her sister’s letters. It seems she must have had a premonition of her impending demise and had written her widowed twin asking her to come to Four Corners and look out for her loved ones.
That in itself had rendered Vin speechless but not JD. Under his eager questioning, Mrs. B proceeded to describe in detail each man’s favorite food and just how much attention Mrs. Bridger felt each young man needed. Vin had dared Chris with one look to even smirk when she launched into how much her sister had insisted that Vin always get first choice of anything with peaches and fresh milk always be on hand for JD. It had taken quite a lot of self-control and one jar of peach preserves to convince Vin not to shoot his best friend, but Mrs. B’s biscuits had rendered Vin speechless. It was hard to talk much less shoot a mare’s leg when your mouth was stuffed with food and your hands were putting a pound of peach preserves on your biscuit. Mrs. B had just started waxing poetic over Mr. Larabee’s unvoiced preference for pecan pie. Vin had nearly choked when he heard that tidbit. Movement caught JD’s eye again and stopped his memory short.
Putting the glass to his eye he took one long look. Sure enough, there was more movement on the hill. A little over half a mile away were about ten men riding hard from the hill country. JD turned to fire the warning shot when he saw Vin Tanner stick his head over the edge. He was talking to the man, must have been Buck, below him.
“All right, Buck. I’ll tell him to, now will you quit sneezin’ that crap all over my boots?” Vin was still shaking his head in disgust when he made eye contact with JD. JD’s excitement was contagious as Vin took the extended spyglass from JD’s hand. Hunkering down beside him, Vin looked in the direction JD was pointing. He, too, saw the men riding hard. One man he recognized as one of the men in Crosby.
“We’ve beaten ‘em to the bridge after all. If we can get across, set the charges, an’ blow the bridge in the next fifteen minutes, we’ll be home free.” JD agreed with Vin.
He yelled down at Buck whose stopped up ears only had him raise his hands and ask them to repeat. Vin and JD exchanged a look as JD stood up to wave his arms wildly at the guard up front. Vin practically jumped down and was pushing past Buck moving to the engine as fast as he could. Recognizing him as one of the men Terrell had been talking about, they got out of his way without question. Vin got to the engineer just as Burt was putting the brakes on. JD was already in the private rail car telling the others what was going on. Ezra and Harold Bristow were on the move before Vin finished telling Burt what was going on.
“Keep goin’. They’re about half a mile behind us. Bridge is safe to cross.”
Burt didn’t question him further. He let go the brake and proceeded to cross the bridge. He slowed enough to let five men off the train and pulled to a full stop one hundred yards from the bridge. Vin caught up with Ezra and Bristow. He helped them carry the box of dynamite the rest of the way to the middle of the bridge. The other men were carrying small barrels marked TNT and rope. Chris and JD came up with Josiah, all three men carrying rifles. Buck and John Terrell had men climbing on top of the private rail car setting up sniper fire from there. Chris and Josiah stood guard twenty feet in front of them while JD helped the others who were already working furiously. They strapped the dynamite that was already wrapped for this purpose to the areas Harold had shown them earlier using a crude drawing of the bridge. Harold followed behind attaching the fusing. Chris looked back once.
“We gotta hurry. They’ll be here any minute.”
Vin didn’t look at him but kept on working as fast as he could. He and Ezra finished strapping down the last of the three barrels. Vin handed Ezra the fusing and motioned him towards Bristow. Harold was fastening all the wires to one central box at the end of the bridge. Pulling his mare’s leg from its holster, Vin joined Chris and Josiah.
“C’mon. We’re ready here. Let’s get back on over to the other side and let Harold blow this bridge.” His two friends didn’t hesitate. All three turned and ran for their end of the bridge. They had just reached the end as Bristow was sending everyone back to the train. Chris stopped with Vin by Harold’s side.
“Tell me what to do and get everyone else back on board.” Chris looked at Vin who took up a position on the other side aiming his mare’s leg at any would be target that might appear.
“Just push the plunger down and run like hell. Should blow the midsection of the bridge. If nothin’ else, it’ll make it too unstable for anyone to cross it.” Chris nodded his understanding as Bristow and Ezra both took off for the train. Vin and Chris heard the pounding of hooves as Destry and his men came into view. Bullets started whizzing about in the air as both sides opened up on each other.
“You ready?” Chris grinned as he yelled the question at Vin.
“Push the damn thing an’ run!” Vin yelled back at Chris. One man had reached the entrance to the bridge. He slowed his horse down but it didn’t stop him from firing at the two men. A bullet whizzed past Chris’s cheek and Vin’s hat was shot from his head. One shot from Vin and the gunman fell from the horse. Another man took his place. Chris pushed the plunger as he and Vin turned tail and ran for the now moving train. The bridge exploded obliterating the sound of gunfire. No one else was shooting at them as they ran for the train. People were yelling encouragement as the two men got closer to the train that was steadily picking up speed. First Vin then Chris got pulled up and inside the rail car as it continued taking them closer and closer to Brecken and safety. Both men turned to look outside the door at what was left of the bridge. One man stood shaking his fist at them and was yelling something they couldn’t hear. John Terrell put Vin’s spyglass to his one unswollen eye.
“That’s Destry, and he doesn’t look too happy right now.” He started laughing and was followed shortly by the other men who joined with him.
“No, I don’t think he liked your surprise one little bit, John.” Chris was the first one to answer him.
“Well, at least he got a big bang outa his surprise.” Everyone stopped laughing and looked at JD. Then, they erupted once more. The train moved ahead safely leaving one enraged man behind them. All of his plans, all he had worked for, three of his brothers, all of it was gone because of John Terrell and those seven men from Four Corners.
They weren’t there to hear his tirade that promised retribution or one of the men who was still alive ask if that wasn’t Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner from Four Corners who blew that bridge. None of the men on the train who thought Destry was finished heard another of those men ask Destry if he’d heard that Tanner was Terrell’s nephew. They also weren’t there to hear Bo Destry question the man at length to find out as much as he could about the connection between Tanner and Terrell. And most of all, no one was there to hear Destry tell his brother and his men they would get Terrell and Larabee and his gang in Four Corners for it was only a five days ride from here. They turned their mounts towards the hills that would take them across the wilderness to Four Corners. By heading out and planning to pick up supplies at a ranch just at the foot of the hills there was no need to return to Crosby. There really was nothing left there for them anyway. With Terrell alive to tell the tale, the Army would soon arrive to put them all out of business. If they couldn’t have the gold, they could at least have revenge, and Bo Destry and his remaining men wanted revenge.
IN PART 2 |
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