The Magnificent Seven -OW / Rated PG-13
They had been trailing known horse thief, Dick Peters, for three days. He and his brother, Frank, had stolen two horses from the livery, leaving Yosemite lying in a stall; bleeding from a blow to the head. As soon as the peacekeepers had been told what had happened, Chris, Buck, Vin, and Ezra had taken off after the thieves. And Dick Peters had been giving Vin a run for his money ever since. The tracker was using every piece of knowledge he had, to keep the peacekeepers on the thieves’ trail.
They were currently looking at another dead end and Vin was mad enough to chew nails. Leaning over from his perch on Pony, Chris Larabee tried to see what the tracker was staring so fixedly at; Vin Tanner stood up from his crouch and kicked at a rock.
“Problem,” Chris asked as he scratched at his chin; moving his gaze out the horizon, hoping beyond hope that something would materialize. They all wanted to get off the blasted trail and back to town, back to the comforts of civilization. Unfortunately, it appeared that fortune would not be smiling on them today. This afternoon had been a scorcher and with not a cloud in the sky, the night promised to be just the opposite.
Cursing under his breath, Vin looked back at his companions, “The trail’s gone cold, again, and I have absolutely no clue where to look next.” The tracker continued to walk back and forth looking closely at the ground around him, hoping that something would stand out, no matter how insignificant.
“Don’t upset yourself needlessly, Mr. Tanner. We have the upmost confidence in your abilities.” Ezra remarked as he casually rode up next to the gunslinger, “Do we not, Mr. Larabee?” Ezra pointedly looked at Chris, clearly expecting a response to his statement.
Chris shook himself from his wool gathering and glanced at Ezra, “What did you say?”
Sighing deeply, Ezra admonished the gunslinger, “My dear Mr. Larabee, if you had stayed involved in the conversation, I, Ezra P. Standish, would not have to repeat myself. May I ask what was far more interesting than what I had to say?”
Prickly tempers had risen right along with the temperature; Chris sent the gambler a heated glare, “Well, Ezra. Before you started blathering on, I was thinking that a few miles to the east is an old farm, can’t remember the name of the family living there, but maybe they would have seen Peters, it’s the only spread for miles around.” Chris sat up in the saddle stretching the kinks from his back.
“Sounds like an idea to me, besides my ass is killing me. I haven’t been in the saddle this long in a coon’s age.” Buck chimed in from where he was waiting at the back of the group. “And I know I’m not the only one hurtin’, I’ve seen you scooting around on your saddle, Ez.”
“My posterior is not up for discussion, Mr. Wilmington. And as a point of information, I don’t think any of us have been out on the ‘trail’ for an extended period in recent memory.” Ezra huffed and tried to find a more comfortable spot in his saddle. He had been able to ignore the growing discomfort for some time, but the ladies man had just brought it back to the forefront of thought.
Vin glanced up at Buck and Ezra, noticing how both were in fact sitting gingerly in the saddle, grinning he glanced at Chris, who just stared back down at him, “Your ‘posterior’ hurting too? Think you can ride on a little further?” Vin asked as smirked up at his friend; before climbing back up Peso and settling confidently into the saddle.
“Let’s check out that farm up ahead, and call it an evening.” Chris turned Pony to the east, not even questioning if the others would follow, and definitely not giving the tracker the satisfaction of knowing that he was as trail weary as Buck and Ezra were.
Buck pulled General up alongside Ezra and Chaucer, “He didn’t mention his hind end. You think he’s hurtin’ as much as we are?”
Vin rode past Buck and Ezra, “You two are too concerned with how everyone’s seats are feeling, might start to think I’m ridin’ with some little boys. Buck up, Buck.”
“Ha ha! Just because you live in the saddle and we choose not to doesn’t make us little boys.” Buck called out in indignation. “Let’s get a move on, Ez. I’m ready to call it a day.”
Sometime later they had arrived at the farm, but it been in a condition that none were expecting. It appeared to be devoid of life and the house had been boarded up. As they rode up, only the wind rustling through the leaves on some nearby oaks could be heard. Somewhere in the distance an unsecured door banged against a wall. The place just seemed creepy to Buck’s way of thinking; there were no chickens loose in the yard, no cow bawling to be milked, or pigs rooting in the muck. Nothing but the leaves and that damn loose door.
“I suggest we take a quick look around and then depart for a friendlier locale.” Ezra chimed in as he dropped down out of the saddle, squatting down to stretch his tight thigh muscles.
Chris snorted and hopped off of Pony’s back with a grimace; that he quickly hid behind a sarcastic smile, “What, are you afraid the Bogeyman’s going to get you? It’s just a deserted farm, the scariest thing here is me, so let’s look around and go from there.”
The peacekeepers spent the next several minutes checking every possible nook and cranny. Chris’s frustration with the whole situation had grown by leaps and bounds until he was ready to throttle Peters within an inch of his life, if they ever found him and his no good brother that is. As Chris stalked off toward the barn to continue his search, the ground was unexpectedly gone from beneath his feet. He only had time to let out a startled gasp before the gunslinger found himself falling long and fast. He landed with a resounding splash, when he suddenly met up with a wall of water, the breath knocked from him his lungs. He sank like a rock.
He tried not to panic, knowing that if he did he’d be dead. Instinctively he started kicking for what he hoped was the surface, his lungs screaming for oxygen. Seconds later he broke the surface sucking in a large gasp of air, treading water he tried to find a handhold but the sides were too smooth. It was then that he noticed how frigid the water was, not good.
Coughing up water, Chris yelled as loud as he could, “Buck! Hey, Buck!” holding his breath for a moment; he strained to hear over own his ragged breathing. Nothing. Looking up he could barely make out the sky above; how far had he fallen anyway? Pushing his hair out of his face he noticed blood on his hand, “Wonderful” he thought as he tried to summon help again, only succeeding in bringing on a coughing attack. He sank under the freezing water once again as his clothing pulled at him, kicking frantically he resurfaced coughing up water as he gasped for precious air once more. He’d definitely gotten himself into a bad spot.
Up above, Buck stood rooted to the spot; flabbergasted by what he’d just witnessed. There was no way that could have just happened; his mind was playing tricks on him. One moment Chris is stalking across the way and then nothing, not even a yell, the ground just seemed to swallow him up.
A muffled splash yanked Buck’s mind back to himself and put his feet into motion, he took off with a ground eating pace to the place he’d last seen his friend. “Chris! Oh God, Chris!” Buck screamed as he seemed to move too slow and the distance too great to where he’d last seen Chris, “Vin! Ezra! Help! Help!”
Vin and Ezra looked up in confusion at the screams coming from the ladies man. They’d been looking near the farm house for any sign that someone had recently been on the property. At Buck’s frantic cries both peacekeepers took off running. Buck’s voice was bordering on hysterical, and neither man had any earthly idea of what could have happened to scare the man so thoroughly?
Rounding the corner at a run they saw Buck sprinting hell bent for leather toward the barn. They charged in Buck’s direction, putting on more speed as they watched Buck drop to his knees, screaming Chris’s name.
Sliding to a stop near a now visible gaping hole in the ground Ezra and Vin looked at Buck in confusion, the ladies man was pointing at the hole, gasping something completely unintelligible. Ezra knelt down and tried to peer inside, all he could hear was what sounded like harsh, stuttered breathing and splashing.
Looking questioningly at Buck, Vin asked, “You think Chris in there?” At Buck’s nod he exclaimed, “He can’t be, he’s probably down at the barn. How could anyone miss this massive hole?”
Chris could hear muffled voices above him, pulling in a breath he shouted for all he was worth, “Hey! Hey get me the hell out of here!” As his teeth began to chatter, he strained to hear some sort of reply. When no reply was immediately forthcoming the gunslinger resumed treading water and silently cursed to himself.
As Chris’s disembodied voice rose from the well Vin’s mouth dropped open, snapping it shut he dropped down along side Ezra to peer down into the well also. “Chris, what in the world are you doing in the well?”
Again, Chris stilled for a moment, thinking that his ears were playing tricks on him. He knew he had just not heard Vin ask him what he was doing in the well? Rubbing at a cramp building in his leg he called out sarcastically, “I’m fishing. What the hell do you think I’m doing? Get me outta here!”
Vin shrugged as he rolled to a sitting position, “Guess he can’t be too hurt, seems to have kept his wonderful sense of humor. Better grab a rope to pull his sorry ass out with.” Standing quickly, Vin brushed the dirt off his pants.
“Don’t think he was trying to be funny Vin.” Buck remarked as finally pulled himself shakily to his feet. “I just hope he’s really okay, he just scared ten years off my life.”
Vin grabbed his rope off of Peso’s saddle and handed it to Buck. “We should use your horse; he’s not as ornery as Peso. It’ll be easier to get Chris topside using the horse to pull.”
“Sure, sure. Won’t be a problem, General’s most reasonable horse I’ve ever met. Let’s get this done.” Buck went about securing the rope to General’s saddle horn, and when that was done the ladies man slid on his gloves in order to assist with the pulling.
Ezra had stayed by the well to listen for Chris. “Hold on Mr. Larabee, we should have you out of your current predicament post haste.” Ezra called over the side of the well, squinting down into the darkness below. Ezra was currently lying on his stomach looking down into the dark abyss; the gunslinger was about thirty to forty feet below, in freezing water, waiting for them to pull him to safety. “Mr. Wilmington, are we almost ready? I believe our stalwart friend is tiring.” Ezra leaned up on his elbow to look behind him where Buck was tying off the rope they were going to use to pull Chris to safety.
“I’ve almost got it.” Buck called loudly so Ezra could hear, “Vin, when I give you the word you lead General off that way.” Buck directed, pointing off to the right as he double checked the knot to make sure it was going to hold, and gave his horse a pat on the shoulder.
Vin gave Buck a thumbs up, “Let’s get it done, and see what the damage is. I’d like to get out of here as soon as possible; this place gives me the willies.”
Ezra turned back to the well when he heard Chris calling from below, “We’re going to lower a rope to you in just a moment, Mr. Larabee, hold on for just a little longer.”
Spitting water out of his mouth Chris called out, “Ez! You boys need to hurry, I’ve got a mean cramp coming up in my leg, and I’m not going to be able to hold on much longer!” Chris took small panting breaths, trying to breathe through the pain, and keep his head above water. Why did this have to happen? Who the hell doesn’t mark where an old well is, especially one you can’t see until you’re falling in it?
Apparently at some point the well had been covered with boards, but had been left unattended for so long that the wood had rotted and scrub had grown up around it; silently waiting for the unwary traveler or preoccupied gunslinger. Chris was glad he had been on foot at the time, he would have hated for Pony to have found the well instead. Of course, Pony would have had the sense to miss the well entirely.
Buck dropped down next to Ezra and looked down into the well, “Hey, Pard how you doing down there?”
“Damn it, Buck! Just get me outta here, I’m freezing and I’m getting a cramp in my leg.” Chris yelled up to the ladies man, again Chris tried to find purchase on the smooth sides of the well with little luck. He was beginning to feel a little frightened, not an emotion he liked to embrace, but the pain in his leg was building and he was shivering even more now, the spasms were to the point that they were painful.
“All right, I’m going to drop the rope down to you, just loop it around yourself and we’ll pull you up.” Buck grabbed up the rope and lowered it down into the well.
Chris reached up as the rope got within his reach, and somehow managed to loop the rope around himself despite having clumsy fingers and aching muscles. The gunslinger rasped out with a much force as he could muster, “Pull! And get me the hell out of here!”
Ezra turned to Vin, “Go, Mr. Tanner. He’s ready.” The gambler watched as Vin urged General on, away from the well.
As Buck and General pulled, Ezra kept watch as Chris was slowly drawn to the top. Glancing down into the well, to judge their progress, the ladies man took in the gunslinger’s bedraggled appearance; his pale complexion, blue lips, the blood running down the side of his face from a cut somewhere in his hairline. Buck and Ezra both let out a collective sigh of relief. “Well welcome back, though I do have to say you look like a half drowned kitten.” Buck chuckled as he reached out to pull Chris the rest of the way out of the well with Ezra’s assistance.
Chris flopped into boneless heap on the ground, unable to move any further. “Just leave me, I’m done. Wake me when we get home.” He moaned and closed his eyes; his arms falling uselessly by his sides. “Oh, and I’ve lost my hat.”
“We should take care of them tonight; I don’t think we should drag this out. They’ll be preoccupied with that stupid gunslinger.” Frank Peters bit out as he put his spyglass away.
Dick snorted and turned his horse away from the farm, “I want them to suffer, I don’t want them making it back to that fleabag town alive.”
Remounting his horse he followed his brother, “Dick the longer we wait, the better chance they have of catching us. I’m not getting hanged for a stupid horse.”
Pulling up his horse, Dick Peters turned in the saddle to glare at his younger brother, “It’s the thrill of the chase; you always said you wanted to be famous. Well this is our shot, but we need witnesses. Someone needs to know that the Peters Brothers took on and bested the ‘Magnificent Seven’, that’s the stuff legends are made of. We’ll be rich.”
Frank drew his horse up beside his brother, “But Dick, there’s only four of them.”
Dick reached over and punched Frank in the side of the head, “I know that you dunder head. You see we’re going to get the other three to come after their friends, then it will be bye-bye Magnificent Seven.”
“Well, I don’t completely agree with how you’re going about this whole fiasco, but if it makes us rich and famous. Who am I to argue?” Frank rubbed at his sore ear and followed behind his brother away from their prey.
Vin quickly knelt down beside the gunslinger, “We’ve got to get you out of those wet clothes, Cowboy. You’re frozen clean through.” Pulling a limp and exhausted Chris Larabee up into his arms, Vin helped Buck peal the duster off; followed by Chris’s shirt and trousers.
“Here, I have a towel, blanket and an extra set of his clothes.” Ezra gasped out as he dropped down next to the trio, noticing how unresponsive the gunslinger was. Looking behind him at the boarded up home the gambler made a suggestion, “I think if we can get a fire started we should stay the night, darkness is only a few hours off and I believe that Mr. Larabee would benefit from the rest.”
“I think you’ve got a good idea there Ez, why don’t you and Vin go check out the house, while I dry Chris off here.” Buck replied as he used the towel to dry Chris’s wheat blonde locks.
“I’ll help Ez out; then we’ll move Chris inside.” Vin transferred his hold on his friend to Buck who wrapped him in the blanket Ezra had brought over.
Looking down at the lethargic man, Buck gently moved his hair away from the cut in his scalp to better assess the injury. Chris had scared the life from him, when one moment he’d been standing near the windmill and suddenly Chris had disappeared into nothingness. Buck’s heart had jumped to his throat and his legs had not wanted to move with his brain’s command.
Once they’d all arrived at the defunct well they’d been elated when they’d heard the splashing coming from the hole in the earth and the gunslinger yelling for assistance. Though Chris had gotten himself in a bad spot, he was at least still alive; and there was something they could do to save his skinny hide.
Reluctantly leaving the gunslinger and the ladies man behind, the tracker and gambler, cautiously traversed the open yard, to the small farm house with the faded, pealing paint and boarded up windows. Mounting the stairs, the tracker moved to the door and grasped the board preventing their entrance. Pulling for all he was worth Vin managed to remove the three boards that had been nailed to the doorframe.
Ezra gently pushed Vin away from the door and tried the knob, the door was locked. Reaching into his vest he pulled forth a tool, “Allow me, Mr. Tanner, I believe this part of the task requires my expertise.” Flashing a grin that showed off his gold tooth Ezra went to work on the lock. The lock made a quiet click and Ezra pushed the door open a few seconds later, bowing and indicating that the tracker could precede him inside.
“Thanks, Ez. That’s a lot easier than kicking the door in. You do come in handy to have around.” Vin laughed as he entered the murky interior of the house, smells kinda musty in here, he thought to himself, at least it would keep them dry and out of the elements.
The parlor had a small fireplace against one wall, sheet covered furniture strategically placed around the room, and wall sconces covered in cobwebs. The dust hung heavy in the air and had settled sometime ago on every available surface. With two fingers, Ezra slowly lifted one of the dustcovers and found an opulently appointed chaise lounge covered in the softest blue damask he’d ever laid eyes on. “This is a beautiful piece of furniture, why would anyone want to leave this behind?”
“I’ve been wondering the same thing myself, whoever lived here sure did like the ‘good life’, there’s even knick-knacks left on the mantle.” Vin took in the room with a furrowed brow, it didn’t make sense. Why would someone leave this all behind?
“Maybe they decided to move back where they’d come from?” the gambler suggested as he uncovered the other pieces of furniture, Vin leaned over and checked the chimney flue for blockages and nests.
“Mr. Tanner, if you will get the fire started I will assist Mr. Wilmington with Mr. Larabee. I believe it could turn quite cold this evening, but I think we should be quite comfortable as long as a supply of wood holds out.” Ezra wiped his hands off on one of the dust covers that he’d piled in the corner.
The sharpshooter turned from the fireplace, he had found no evidence that would indicate that the chimney was blocked, “Sure Ez, I’ll check for some kindling and wood, hopefully enough to get us through to the morning.” Looking around at the room again he replied, “Could have found worse places to hole up, this ain’t so bad.”
“Most assuredly, Mr. Tanner, most assuredly;” Ezra pulled the front door open, “I will return with our companions.”
Stepping out onto the porch and looking out toward the well he could see Buck sitting on the ground with the gunslinger. As the gambler traversed the barren yard he could feel the cold bite in the air.
Buck looked up as Ezra drew up next to him, “Everything in the farm house okay?” At Ezra’s nod he gently shook Chris awake. Chris blearily opened his eyes and Buck grinned, “Hey, Stud. We’re gonna move inside before it gets too cold out here, we’ll head out in the morning.”
“Sure. Help me up, and we’ll head in.” Chris extracted a hand from the blanket and held it out for Ezra to take. Chris groaned as he felt what appeared to be every muscle protesting his movements, as he gained his feet he wavered where he stood; he’d have collapsed if Ezra hadn’t reached out to support him.
“Careful Mr. Larabee, you don’t want to land in the dirt so soon after getting your feet under you. There appears to be a rather comfortable chaise inside for you to use this evening. As we speak, Mr. Tanner is preparing a bone thawing fire.” Ezra held Chris steady as Buck got up from where he had been sitting on the ground with the gunslinger.
“Come on, Stud. Let’s get you inside.” Buck wrapped the blanket tighter around Chris and lifted him into arms, at the gunslingers ineffective protests; Buck remarked, “You only have your long johns on and no shoes. You can’t walk across the ground because there are too many rocks. Just relax and let me get you inside.”
Ezra followed along behind Buck with the saddle bags he’d managed to grab up. Maybe they could actually scrounge up a halfway decent meal tonight; he was tiring of trail food. He watched Buck carry Chris to the house with little effort; he often forgot how slight the gunslinger was compared to Buck. Chris had a personality that was room filling, if he was around you could feel it.
Vin met them at the door of the farm house, “Got the fire going, should be right comfy in here in just a bit.” Moving out of the way of the trio as they entered the house he continued, “Found a cot in a back bedroom, thought we could bring it out here, instead of making Chris sleep on the chaise, think he’s a little too tall for it.”
Buck settled Chris into one of the chairs and looked up at Vin, “Let’s get it then, he can barely keep his eyes open, wore himself plum out treading water until we could get him back up out of that godforsaken well.”
“I’ll see to getting Mr. Larabee out of the rest of these clothes, do not tarry, I fear his lips are still blue and he is still an unhealthy shade of pale.” Ezra set the bags down next to the chair and knelt down near the gunslinger.
“I can change my own clothes, Ezra. I’m fine, just a little tired.” Chris groaned as he pealed the blanket away and shivered violently as the outside air made contact with his still wet long johns. Leaning forward he shrugged one shoulder out of the cotton and pulled his right hand free of the clinging, wet fabric. Somehow his left hand had become impossibly tangled and Ezra reached forward to help his pull his hand free.
“Mr. Larabee, this would go much faster if you would let me divest you of your clothing. Let someone help you for a change, I do not mind.” Ezra sat back on his heels as Chris glared at him from beneath a furrowed brow.
Chris grimaced, as his teeth started chattering again and the tremors returned to his muscles. “Fine, but watch where you put your fingers, your hands are cold.”
A clatter from behind them interrupted Ezra’s reply. Looking over his shoulder, Ezra could see Buck and Vin carrying the cot into the parlor. Setting it up near the fire, Vin pulled some folded linens from under his arm.
Smiling Vin held his find up, “I found some clean linens, they aren’t musty, dusty, or anything. You are a lucky man, Cowboy.”
“Yeah, kinda strange if you ask me.” Chris grunted as he lifted up so that Ezra could remove the rest of his clothing. Flipping the blanket back over himself he sneezed violently.
Ezra dropped the wet items to the floor and pulled the extra set of long johns from Chris’s saddlebags. He helped Chris put them on as Vin and Buck made up the cot.
“Okay, your bed’s ready anytime you are, Stud. Just think, you actually get to sleep off the ground tonight.” Buck chuckled and moved to the front door, “I’ll go see to the horses.”
“I’ll be out to help you as soon as we get Chris bedded down.” Vin called from where he was helping Ezra get Chris over to the cot.
Exiting the farmhouse Buck strolled over to the barn, the horses were milling around the windmill, pulling at the scattered tufts of grass. Opening the barn door, Buck cautiously stepped inside, looking around he noticed that the barn appeared well put together and was as clean as a whistle. There was something strange with this entire farm, it appeared to have been well taken care of, inside one of the rooms he found feed, and it still appeared to be in good condition. Where were the people who had lived on this farm, and why did they leave?
“Buck! Buck, hey where are you?” Buck could hear Vin calling to him, moving to the barn entrance he looked out and saw the tracker near the windmill.
“Over here at the barn!” Buck called and Vin gave him the thumbs up, Buck watched as Vin gathered up General and brought him over.
“How’s it going out here?” Vin asked as he drew abreast of Buck, “Getting cold out, glad we got a solid roof over our heads and good fire tonight.”
Buck took General’s reins and led him into the barn, “Everything’s right as rain, nice barn and the feed and hay are still good. Whoever lived here must not have left too long ago. Wonder what happened?”
“Well, I’m sure glad the farm was here, not happy about Chris taking that trip into the well, but we’ve been in worse situations.” Vin remarked as he prepared to go back out and get Peso. “Ezra said he was going to check out the kitchen see if there’s anything edible left. Looking forward to a nice meal, we’ve been eating trail food for three days now.”
“Shake a tail feather there, Hoss. I don’t know about you, but I could use some good vittles.” Buck pulled General’s saddle and tack off and moved him into an empty stall.
They spent the next half hour putting the horses up for the night and when they stepped out of the barn their breath could be seen on the evening air. “Hope Ezra’s got something warm cooking for supper.” Vin closed the barn door behind them as they returned to the house.
Buck shivered as he reached for the doorknob, “Damn, it’s cold out here, let’s get a move on.” Pushing the door open, he could feel the warmth coming from the parlor. Sighing in happiness he strolled through the room and dropped into one of the chairs near the fire. “Ah, cozy. Think I’ll stay here all night.” Buck stretched his feet out toward the fire and closed his eyes in contentment.
“Don’t be hogging all the fire there, Bucklin. I’m just as frozen as you are.” Vin smirked as crouched near the hearth and glanced back at Buck.
“You all talk too much, you know that?” Chris turned on his side and pulled the blankets closer about himself, fixing a tired gaze on Vin and Buck.
“Thought you were sleeping, Cowboy?” Vin asked as he stood and moved toward the bed where his friend was lying.
“Not with all of you jabbering away and letting the cold air in.” Chris yawned and fought to keep his eyes open.
“Sorry Chris, horses have been tended to, Ezra’s scaring up some grub, and I don’t plan on stepping outside again until I absolutely have to” Buck yawned and pulled his boots off, before sticking his cold toes closer to the fire.
“Yeah well, don’t forget that the Peter’s boys are still out there. We don’t want to get caught unaware.” Chris shivered violently and brought his knees up to his chest, before making sure that his feet were completely covered. The warmth from the fireplace was finally starting to take the chill off.
“I’ll go check on Ezra, see if he needs any help.” Vin chuckled and moved quietly in the direction of the kitchen.
Buck yawned again, “I’ll keep an eye on ol’ Larabee here. Lord knows he can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble. Yup, had to fish his skinny butt out of the well, like a poor half-drowned, sputtering kitten. Kinda looked like one too.” He waited patiently for some smart aleck retort from the gunslinger. When none was tossed back his way he realized that Chris had drifted off to sleep.
As Vin entered the kitchen he found Ezra digging through the pantry. “Need any help, Ez?”
Ezra smiled so widely that his gold tooth flashed in the lantern light, “My dear Mr. Tanner, I feel like the proverbial Goldilocks. There is a fully stocked larder and pantry. We will be feasting like kings this evening.”
Vin frowned in thought, “Ez, don’t you wonder where these people went? Why would they leave all of this stuff behind?”
The gambler stopped with the meal preparations and stared at the tracker, “Who am I to question gifts such as these? Just remember the saying ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’ you may just loose your nose in the process.”
Vin just rolled his eyes and looked down at what the gambler had collected for dinner. “Just what are you planning on cooking for supper? I was thinkin’ of something real simple.”
Looking aghast at Vin, Ezra cried, “Bite thy tongue, my naive friend. Have we not been swilling trail food for the last three days? I say ‘Nay!’ to more trail food. Tonight we will have ham and potatoes, fluffy biscuits with creamy butter, and peach cobbler for dessert.”
“Didn’t know you knew how to make all that, Ez,” Vin chortled, “Thought you preferred fancy eating establishments.”
If it wouldn’t seem so childish Ezra had half a mind to stick his tongue out at Vin, he’d just have to settle for a scowl.
The popping of the fire brought Buck out of his light doze, looking toward the cot he could see the gunslinger was still sleeping; the blankets wrapped tightly about him. Yawning widely the ladies man stretched and rose from the comfortable chair. Sniffing the air he could detect some yummy smells coming from the direction of the kitchen. His stomach growled loudly and he gave it a consoling pat.
He looked up as the kitchen door swung open and light spilled into the parlor, the sharpshooter’s silhouette preceded him. “He sleeping?” Vin asked the ladies man as he moved to look out a window. Darkness had settled in, making it near impossible to see any movement outside.
“Yup, plum tuckered out. What’cha making for supper?” Buck asked quietly, as he bent over to place another log on the fire.
Moving to the next window, Vin chuckled as he peered through the curtains, “Ezra’s making supper, swears he can’t stomach trail grub another day. Have to say, I was mighty surprised to find out he even had a notion of what a larder was, leastways know his way round it.”
“Well Ol’ Ezra’s been known to pull an Ace from the deck when he needs it. Just hope it’s eatable, ah edible.” Buck grinned and grabbed up his coat, “I’m gonna check around outside, it’s just been too quiet for my taste. Don’t want to get caught with our trousers round our ankles.”
Vin sank down into the chair Buck had recently occupied, “I’ll keep your seat warm, be careful out there.”
“Thanks, I’ll be wanting that seat back when I return.” Buck grinned as he slipped out into the night. Pulling the door closed behind himself, he looked out into the yard scowling. There was no moon tonight, someone could be standing just a few feet from him and he wouldn’t even know it. A cold breeze ruffled his hair and sent the barn door to slapping again. Stupid door, he thought to himself, he was going to have to brace it closed with something. Walking cautiously along the side of the house he strained to see along the ridge line. Nothing. Blowing out a frustrated breath, he secretly wished something would happen, just to give him satisfaction for the uneasiness he felt deep down inside.
“Reach for the sky!” a rough voice hissed to Buck’s left as cold iron pressed up on his chin. Buck’s heart stuttered to a stop, “You and your friends just don’t know when to back down. Is your life really worth a few mangy horses?” Son of a bitch, it was the Peters.
Buck reluctantly raised his hands as the gun pushed harder into his unprotected throat; causing tears to spring to his eyes. Buck could feel an arm snake around his waist, relieving him of his knife and gun. The ladies man was mentally kicking himself six ways to Sunday; he should have known things were too quiet and going too easy. To call out now would mean certain death for Vin and the others. “Why are you still hanging around? You know you’ll get hanged for being the low-bellied horse thieves that you are.”
Buck’s hands were suddenly yanked viciously behind his back and something rank was stuffed into his mouth. He tried not to gag on the disgusting cloth but his stomach was trying to voice its protest. He moaned as bile moved up his throat, somehow he managed to choke it back down.
“You upchuck and you’ll drown in it.” Another voice snarled as a dirty hand yanked his head back by his hair. He felt a blade pressed to his throat as a face came into view, Dick Peters. He should have known, these two were vicious and were obviously trying to make a name for themselves.
“Frank, grab that rope and come on, were gonna string us up a peacekeeper, then were gonna get his friends. We’ll have ourselves a real party.” Dick shoved his gun in Buck’s back and pushed him toward the barn.
Buck groaned in pain as Dick jabbed him in the back again and pushed him toward the barn. Stumbling, Buck hoped to trip up Dick Peters, but only succeeded in jamming his shoulder into the ground.
Frank viciously kicked Buck in the back, “Get up you piece of rubbish. I ain’t carrying you. Crawl if you got to.” He kicked the ladies man again, when he didn’t get up fast enough for his satisfaction.
Buck managed to get to his feet back under him and shot a glare at Frank Peters. Stumbling forward he felt the gun in his back once more. Buck prayed for some type of intervention, but figured he was going to have to hope for a rescue. The Peters were gonna hang him up like a trussed up goose for Christmas supper.
Vin stared into the crackling fire, listening as the wind sent the bushes beating against the outside walls. He shivered against a draft that snuck in through a nearby window; Buck had to be freezing by now. Rising from the chair he made his way back to the warmth of the kitchen. “How’s it coming? I’m plum starved out here and Buck’s gonna be crying when he comes back in from the cold.” Vin grinned at the flour speckled gambler, though he’d found an apron, he’d still managed to get it on his trousers.
Giving the tracker a harassed look, the gambler swiped at his cheek, leaving a swath of flour behind, “Supper will be ready when it’s ready. You can not rush perfection, Mr. Tanner. My biscuits need to fluff a little before I subject them to the fire. When they are finished, I have located a crock of butter and some honey. These biscuits will just melt in your mouth and leave you panting for more.”
Vin stood there listening to Ezra’s description, his mouth hanging open and his belly growling its displeasure. Suddenly snapping back to himself, the sharpshooter moaned, “Thanks, Ez. If I was starving before, now I’m dying.” Ezra just grinned back. Vin slapped the table, “You keep an ear for Chris, I’m gonna go find Buck. He’s dilly dallying outside somewhere. I’m holding you to those biscuits with butter and honey.”
Ezra stood there with his hands on his hips, “Here I am slaving over a decent meal and now you task me with attending to our petulant leader?”
“Ez,” Vin sighed as he clapped his hat down on his head, “He’s sleeping, he’s not gonna bite you. In fact, he hasn’t moved a muscle since we bundled him on the cot. I wouldn’t worry on it, just keep an ear out.”
“Fine, Mr. Tanner, I will do as you request, but you best not tarry, or you may have to fore go your biscuits.” Ezra complained as he slid the biscuits into the stove.
“No, I won’t. Be back quicker than three swipes of a lamb’s tail.” Vin vowed and pulled the kitchen door open, exiting the house quickly as the cold wind buffeted him in the face he could hear Ezra squawking behind him. Yanking the door shut, he hopped down the stairs and out into the yard. Looking to his left and right he heard nothing, squinting into the darkness he couldn’t make out any shapes that resembled the ladies man. Buck, where are you? He thought to himself as he moved quietly along the house.
A clang from the direction of the barn had Vin creeping toward the dark building. He hoped it was just Buck knocking something over; he really wanted those biscuits Ezra was baking up. As he neared the doors he heard something that sounded like a muffled grunt and flesh striking flesh. Pulling his mare’s leg free he moved closer to the door and tried to peer inside. “Too dark.” He hissed in exasperation. Pulling the doors open just enough to slip through, he stepped inside.
“Welcome to the party.” A voice hissed behind him and then Vin saw a flash of light.
© Jackie 2011