The rear door to the Undertaker's creaked loud in Vin Tannerís ear, causing him to silently curse his luck. Sneaking out the back had been his only chance of escape, and now, odds were, the chance was lost. He steeled himself.
He hadn't long to wait. Two women appeared outside the door, armed with wooden buckets filled to the brim with fresh, cold water. They fired simultaneously, dousing him thoroughly down his front side. A third assailant drenched his unguarded backside.
Shirt clinging to his chest, skin-tight trousers even skin-tighter, Vin shuddered. These assaults were becoming more frequent, and if they kept the current pace, he'd soon have no dry clothes to change into. It occurred to him that this was the women's plan all along. He shuddered more violently.
One of the women proffered a towel, but kept it just out of his reach, drooling as she took in his wet, dripping form. Sighing in unison, the women turned and left Vin to his torment. He awkwardly walked to his room, pants clinging tightly and chaffing with each step. The thin shirt he wore was now transparent and clung to his chest, clearly revealing his well-defined musculature.
As he walked, Vin avoided looking at the group of women gathered across the street, a group which included his assailants. He'd looked after earlier attacks, and been shocked at the predatory expressions they'd worn. At last reaching the boarding house, he met Buck Wilmington, who was preparing to exit. Buck's face lit up at Vin's condition.
"Gotcha again, did they? Persistent little she-devils!" He chuckled merrily.
"Wouldn't be laughing, if I were you. Who they gonna go after when they're done with me?"
"And just what makes you think they'll ever get done with you? I tell ya, Vin...me an' the rest of the boys have been bettin' on when an' where you get it next. I think Ezra won this time round...leastways he said it'd be today, and just where were you when you were...wet?" Buck wore a silly grin.
"Undertaker's. J.D. birthday's coming up." Vin's voice trailed off.
Buck's grin left, being replaced by a scowl.
Vin hastily changed the subject. "Hey Buck--got a shirt I can borrow?"
"And get it back wet? No, I don't have a shirt you can borrow. You'll just have to go without. That might satisfy your lady friends."
"They ain't my friends, and they sure ain't no ladies. Don't even know who they are." Vin's shudder had little to due with his rapidly drying, but still cold, clothing. "Scuse me, Buck. I need to change."
"See you later, pard. Stay dry now." Buck chuckled again as he left.
Vin climbed the stairs to his room, mindful of a possible ambush. Chris met him at the top, wearing his late afternoon I-need-a-drink face. He shook his head sadly as he surveyed Vin's sodden attire.
"It's getting kinda sad, Vin. Seeing you like this. We could post a guard..."
"I'll get by. Wait up a minute an' I'll go with you." Vin didn't have to say where.
Chris looked askance. "Uh...Vin, I was kinda planning to brood alone tonight. You and the rest of the boys are doing serious damage to my loner image, and I need to bolster it some."
Vin narrowed his eyes, causing excess water to stream down the curvature of his cheek and drip onto his shirtfront, landing invisibly on the soaked material. "You worried 'bout gettin' caught in the crossfire? These women scare you, Chris?"
A slight smile tugged at Chris' mouth. "Scare me? No. I just don't have as many shirts as you, and only one extra pair of pants--no sense in tempting fate." Chris edged his way past Vin on the stairs. "Stay dry."
Vin watched him go, realizing his friends were going to keep their distance until his current difficulty had passed. Hopefully the women would tire of him soon.
Some hours later, dry and less despondent, Vin headed for the saloon. Every eye in town followed his progress as he successfully negotiated the distance between his two favorite rooms. The trip from saloon entrance to the bar was also uneventful, making Vin wonder if his curse had been lifted. Leaning casually against the polished wood, Vin sipped his beer. Few returned his gaze. Ezra steadfastly avoided it. Nathan and Josiah ignored him, gaze and all. Chris stared back, but with his usual unreadable look.
Vin forced himself to relax. He was safe here. He was among friends in a safe haven.
Positioning his back to the bar had been a mistake. The five women with buckets struck quickly and with great accuracy. If there was a dry square inch of Vin, he couldn't feel it. Howling mightily, he drew the Vinchester, only to be tackled by Chris. He could hear the shrieks as the women fled the saloon.
"You don't go shootin' a woman!" Chris cried disgustedly.
"I wasn't goin' to. Just wanted to scare 'em off. Maybe shoot the barkeep for not warnin' me... Hell, Chris--I don't know how much more of this I can take. I'm out of clean, dry shirts. Buck won't loan me one, I ain't wearin' none of Ezra's, I don't much like wearin' black--no offense, pard--and Josiah and Nathan are avoidin' me like I was catchin' or somethin'. "
"You left out J.D." Chris reminded him, as he helped his friend to his feet.
"His shirts all got those bullet holes in 'em. Figure my luck could get worse wearin' his."
"Yeah. You've got a point there. So you got a plan?" Chris had great faith in Vin's planning ability.
"Maybe. I'm gonna try and make a deal with 'em. 'Bout the only thing I can do, 'cept ride it out."
"What kind of deal?" Chris looked dubious.
"If they promise to quit ambushing me, I'll agree to walk shirtless through town once a week or so. Heck, I'll even sweat a bit for 'em." Vin looked desperate.
"Might work at that. Worth a shot." Chris noticed Vin's grimace. "Sorry, poor choice of words there."
Yet more hours later, the ink drying quite nicely on the pact Vin made with the anonymous contingent of female attackers, the seven men who defended Four Corners gathered in the saloon. Toasting Vin's reprieve with beer, whiskey, and milk--the men felt more relaxed than they had in days.
Ezra in particular was pleased, having, unbeknownst to Vin, struck a deal with various women's groups. In return for informing them of the time and date of Vin's half-clad strolls, Ezra would receive a small remuneration.
Around midnight the group began to disperse. J.D. left to sleep off his milk, and try and figure out why the undertaker had been sizing him up earlier. Ezra returned to his favorite pastime--severing the ties between fools and their money. Buck left to pursue his favorite pastime, Blossom Call.
Vin smiled as Buck ploughed through the saloon door, and leaned back in his chair. He slid his eyes toward Chris, watching expectantly.
"ARRGGHH." Buck's inarticulate cry was followed closely by Buck himself. He looked accusingly at Vin, but stayed standing at the entrance. Sputtering profanely, he turned and sloshed toward the boarding house.
Chris turned slowly to look at Vin.
Vin shrugged. "They wanted more. Serves him right...seein' as he wouldn't loan me a shirt. Wonder how many he's got? An' who he'll try an' borrow from?" He glanced at Chris' somber clothing, trying to picture Buck donning it.
Chris studied the bottom of his glass, softly smiling. "Vin, I ever tell you the reason I wear black all the time?"