Dark Times
Broken Friendships

by Jackie and Lanna

Buck stormed into the saloon, got a bottle of whiskey, dropped into a chair and began to guzzle. Chris and Vin looked at each other, then at Ezra and Nathan. "Hey Buck." Vin ventured. "Which one o' them ladies o' yers wasn't bein' accommodatin' this mornin'?"

"Weren't no lady," Buck replied darkly. "Goddamn, stupid, idiot." Ezra feigned shock. "Mr. Wilmington. From that, do we surmise that you are not so picky when it comes to, how shall I put it? .... Night time companions?" Buck shot Ezra a dirty look. "JD! That Goddamn kid has been totally sucked into by Calhoun."

"Calhoun? What do you mean? What happened?" Vin asked. Buck sighed and told the other men what had happened outside the jail. Vin looked at Chris with a frown. "Reckon it's time we met this Calhoun fella, don't ya reckon?" he asked. Chris nodded, eyes dark. "Wonder how long it'll be before he shows up here."

"If he knows what's good for 'im he won't come here at all, judgin' by Buck's mood." Nathan observed. Chris regarded Buck for a moment then looked at Vin. "Wanna take a walk?"

"Mighty fine idea, too stuffy in here," Vin replied and moved his lean frame out of his chair. They walked outside and down the boardwalk and it wasn't long before they spotted Calhoun coming out of one of the stores. "Speak of the devil an' he's sure to appear," Vin said under his breath. "Looks like we got our chance to get acquainted with JD's new friend, pard." Chris nodded and they moved to intercept him.

Calhoun stopped when he found his path blocked, grinning to himself when he saw who they were. He gave a pleasant smile, tipped his hat and said, "Gentlemen," then attempted to move around them. Vin stepped sideways to intercept him. "Ain't often we get called Gentlemen is it Chris?" he asked the black clad man standing beside him, without taking his eyes off of Calhoun. "Foreign word to me," Chris replied softly.

Calhoun eyed the pair. "Is there something I can do for you...gentlemen?" "Maybe," Vin answered. "We hear yer a friend of JD's." Calhoun smiled. "Ah yes. You must be a couple more of JD's friends." He held out his hand to Vin. "John Calhoun." Vin looked down at Calhoun's hand, as if considering whether to take it or not. In the end, he briefly slipped his hand into the Bostonians and shook it once, pulling his hand away quickly. "Names Vin," he said, not offering the man his surname. Calhoun nodded and turned to Chris, meeting his eyes and knowing instantly there was no way in hell he'd be able to control this one. At least not in the way he would the others. He offered his hand but Chris didn't take it, staring stonily at John instead. John looked back at Vin. "Don't mind him, nobody else does," Vin told Calhoun. He knew Chris would not be happy about his last comment but he wanted Calhoun to relax a little, and then maybe they would get more from him. "JD tells us yer a psychiatrist. That why yer here? 'cause ya think he needs ya?"

"Well I'm mainly here to visit with my friend. If he happens to need advice..." he trailed off, shrugging. Vin narrowed his eyes. "You know Buck and JD are real good friends, right?" John nodded. "Of course. The lad talked about him quite often in Eagle Bend." Vin looked at Chris. "JD can be mighty talkative, can't he pard? Wonder what else he talked about?" Vin turned icy blue eyes on Calhoun. "So you know how close they are, then. Reckon JD's got all he needs, don't need no more friends comin' screwin with his mind."

Vin's voice had taken on a hard edge. He didn't like Calhoun one bit, something about him grated on his nerves. His time of trying to be friendly was over, there was no way he could be friendly to this slimy weasel one more second. John allowed a nervous smile to cross his lips. "Is there a problem, gentlemen?" "The only problem I see around here is you Calhoun," Vin answered, wondering why Chris had been so silent. John raised a brow. "I'm sorry my good sir, but we only just met. How could I be a problem with you already?"

"Don't try all that polite stuff with me, good sir 'cause it ain't gonna work," Vin rasped taking a step closer to Calhoun. "You're messin' with people ya shouldn't be." Calhoun took a step back, completely enjoying this show of force. He glanced at Chris, silently applauding the man for his part, then smiled at Vin. "Really now, gentlemen, I don' think this is necessary. It's easy to see you both have issues that should be discussed. Perhaps we could retire to my room and have a nice long talk?" Vin clenched his teeth and grabbed Calhoun's collar with both hands pulling him close so their faces were inches apart. "Like I said b'fore, ferget bein' polite. We got no interest in havin' a nice long talk with you. Our talkin's done. Jest stay the hell away from JD." He pulled harder on the collar held tightly in his hands. "And the best way t' do that is to get yerself a ticket fer the next stage out o' town."

"Boys! What's going on here?" A sharp voice spoke. Chris looked up to see an angry looking Josiah moving up next to them. "Just having a chat with our new friend here," he said softly. Vin stared at Calhoun for a few more seconds before he released his hold and stepped back. "Howdy J'siah," he greeted the big man, not taking his eyes from John's. "You met JD's friend here yet?"

"I have," Josiah replied, frowning at Vin and Chris as he moved next to John. "What the hell are you two doing manhandling him?" John smiled. "It's quite all right, Josiah. They're just concerned for JD, as we all are." Vin puffed out a breath, a small smile on his face. "Yeah right. Like we all are." He turned to look at Josiah. "You met him already? And you like him?" Josiah's frown deepened. "What the hell kind of question is that?" Shifting his weight to one leg, Vin regarded Josiah thoughtfully. "The normal kind," he answered. "Ya see, we reckon he's kinda rockin' the boat between Buck and JD and leadin' JD off track."

"So that's what this is about!" John exclaimed. "Gentlemen, I assure you I am in no way trying to interfere in anyone's friendship."

Josiah glared at Vin and Chris. "You two should be ashamed of yourselves." "Reckon we're done here, don't you Chris?" Vin decided it was best if they move along. Calhoun had obviously taken in Josiah, and that surprised the sharpshooter. He thought Josiah had better instincts than that. It was obvious Calhoun was up to something, what it was Vin did not know.... yet. But he intended to find out, before there were any more arguments between the seven. Chris nodded, eyes on Josiah. His gaze flickered to Calhoun, sending out a clear warning before he turned and moved off with Vin. "We have a problem," he said softly. "Yer the master of understatements aren't ya," Vin replied. Chris ignored him and they reentered the saloon, telling the others what had happened. "Aw hell Josiah," Nathan muttered. Ezra sat back in his chair. "I must confess. I found myself being drawn to him."

Buck laughed evilly and Ezra glared at him before he continued. "There is something about him that is dangerous. His eyes draw you in. It is as though he has a web and is trying to pull you into it. Most unnerving I must say." "Wonderful," Chris muttered.

Josiah swept into the saloon then and headed for their table, looking like he was about to put the fear of God in someone. "I don't believe you two," he hissed as he sat down. "Terrorizing an innocent man. What's gotten in to you?"

"Reckon the real question is 'What's gotten into you?' Josiah?" Vin replied.

"Yeah, Josiah. It's obvious the man's up to no good, and here you are defendin' 'im. That's not like you." Nathan added, a concerned look on his face. "Have you met the man, yet Nathan?" Josiah asked, eyes darkening. "No I haven't," the healer answered. "And from what I've been hearin' I'm not sure that I want to."

"Judging, Nathan? You of all people should know better." Nathan bristled at Josiah's cutting remark. "And I thought you had more sense, preacher. Obviously I was wrong." The healer picked up his full glass of whiskey and threw it down his throat, slamming the empty glass down on the table. "Enough," Chris murmured quietly and the table stilled for a moment. Josiah then rose to his feet, leaning over the table and saying, "John Calhoun is JD's friend and he is my friend. If any of you have a problem with it, then let's step outside right now." His eyes swept the table, waiting for any of them to take up the challenge. "Well, from my own point of view, I do not wish to fight right now. I have on my new jacket and have no desire to ruin it," Ezra responded. "Thank you anyway."

Vin looked directly into his whiskey glass as he answered. "Reckon there's been enough fightin' amongst ourselves fer one day. I'd rather sit here and drink whiskey." He looked up and met Josiah's eyes. "Not sayin' I ain't got a problem with Calhoun, jest don't wanna play into his hands." Before Josiah or anyone else at the table could respond, JD came rushing in, looking very pale.

"Chris! Nathan!" he exclaimed. "Ifoundabodyoutsideatownandandandand...." All of the men jumped to the feet at the same time, and walked hastily towards JD. "Calm down and talk slower," Nathan advised the young sheriff. "A body outside of town you say?" JD closed his eyes and got control of his breathing. Finally, he said, "I went for a ride. Outside of town I...I found Jess McDonald. He...he was just laying there...dead. And I don't know why. He wasn't shot or stabbed or anything like that that I could see. His...his eyes were wide and staring...like whatever happened stunned him or something..."

"You sure there were no wounds on 'I'm?" Buck asked. "None at all?"

"Well I didn't go over him with a magnifying glass!" JD snapped. "Easy JD. Buck didn't mean anything by it." Vin soothed, placing a hand on JD's shoulder. "Can ya show us where he is?"

JD nodded. "Yeah. I remember exactly where he is."

"Then let's mount up," Chris ordered and the men quickly left the saloon, Ezra running to get a wagon.

JD led the men out to a spot a short ride outside of town. He hung back when they reached the area, not anxious to see the body again.

Nathan knelt next to Jess McDonald and knew immediately why JD was so spooked. The boy had seen plenty of bodies during his time out west but this one was defiantly different. Its skin was a pure snow white, lifeless eye staring up at the sky, frozen in surprise and fear. One hand was still clutching grass while the other lay beside him. His mouth hung open in a silent scream.

Nathan knew immediately that the man had been completely drained of blood and it sent a shiver of fear up his spine. Avoiding questions, he covered the body up and had it loaded on the wagon and taken back to town to the undertaker's, where he could perform an autopsy. Mostly to confirm his suspicions.

Chris and Vin eventually came in, having lost their patience and wanting answers. He looked up at them as they entered, then back down, wishing they wouldn't ask.

"Nathan? You know what the heck that body is all about?" Vin asked, sensing the healer's discomfort.

Hell, Nathan wasn't the only one who had been affected by the sight of McDonald's almost pure white body. Vin had seen a lot of death, and a lot of it hadn't been pretty. But, he had never seen anything that even closely resembled what they had all seen today...and he figured that Nathan knew more than he was saying right now.... almost as if he was afraid to voice his thoughts.

Nathan bit his lip, glancing down at the body on the table before him. "I got my suspicions," he murmured quietly and both men were surprised to hear a touch of fear in the other man's voice.

"Care to share?" Vin took a step closer to the table, reluctant to get too near, but wanting Nathan to feel less uncomfortable. "Have ya seen this before?"

Nathan nodded. "Don't suppose ya'll would believe a wild animal?"

"Think that's stretchin' it just a bit, Nate," Chris answered. "So, what's got you all jittery? I get the feelin' you don't wanna share."

Nathan bit his lip nervously again then finally said, in a very quiet voice, "Vampire."

Vin took another step closer to Nathan and cocked his head to the side. "Say that again Nathan. Reckon m' ears 'r playin' tricks on me. Coulda swore ya said vampire."

"That's what I said," Nathan replied, avoiding eye contact.

"Bullshit," Chris stated softly. "No such thing."

"Wouldn't bet on it," Nathan replied. He pulled the sheet down to reveal the Victim's head. He winced as he touched it, like it stung a bit and turned the head to reveal part of the neck. "See these two little marks in his neck?" he asked, pointing to two tiny holes. "That's a mark of a vampire."

Vin peered closely at the holes in McDonalds neck. "That where the teeth were dug in, so's the vampire could suck the blood out?" he asked.

Chris sighed and dropped his shoulders impatiently. "C'mon Vin, don't tell me you believe all that stuff about vampires."

"I've learned to believe a lot of stuff, 'til its proved to me it's wrong, Chris," Vin answered seriously.

Chris stared from one to the other, his expression clearly saying he though they were both crazy. "Some asshole sticks a body with a couple of needles and suddenly we got vampires on the loose. I don't buy it." He turned and walked out.

Nathan sighed and looked at Vin. "This is scary shit, Vin," he murmured. "If it is a vampire...."

A.... then I reckon we better find 'em real quick 'fore someone else ends up dead," Vin finished. He leaned over McDonald's body and peered at the holes in the dead mans neck. "So, how come you know about this kinda stuff? You seen it before?"

Nathan nodded. "Yeah," he replied, his tone clearly evasive. "We really don't need this right now. Bad enough we got Calhoun rocking everyone's boat."

"Don't remind me," Vin replied with a grimace. He frowned. "How long d'ya reckon McDonalds been dead?"

Nathan shook his head. "Not sure. Would have happened after full dark and before dawn. Saw him yesterday, so not long."

Vin looked at Nathan thoughtfully. "Yeah, that's right. Vampires can't go out in sunlight. Remember hearin' that. So, we gotta figure out where this things hidin' and stop 'im. Not sure the others won't think we're a mite crazy though, if we tell 'em what we're thinkin'"

"They've got to know. They've got to know what to do if they run into it."

"D'ya know how to handle this Nathan? Or do we have t' figure it out first? 'cause we're gonna have t' know what we're talkin' about when we talk t' the others. Can't just tell 'em there's a vampire wanderin' around, they'll likely throw us in jail 'til we sober up some, 'cause they're gonna think we had one too many whiskeys." Vin was only half joking. He had heard stories about vampires before, so he was open to what Nathan was saying. But the others may not be so ready to accept it. Just the way Chris had reacted told the sharpshooter that.

"Well, they fear holy things like blessed crosses and holy water. Holy water hurts 'em. I reckon Josiah is pretty safe. To kill 'em, you have to put a stake through their heart or cut off their head. Silver bullets are supposed to do some damage, but I don't think we'd likely find any around here." He paused. "As for the others, I don't think convincing Josiah and JD will be all that hard. It's Ezra, Buck and Chris I'm worried about."

"Yeah, know what ya mean. Wish sometimes that folks would be more open minded to things." Vin couldn't help a small laugh. "Kin jest imagine the look on Ezra's face when we try an' tell 'em we reckon there's a vampire on the loose." He shook his head slowly, the smile falling from his face. He turned serious blue eyes on Nathan. "We gotta make 'em see that this is real, 'cause I sure as hell can't figure out anythin' else that'd do this. Then we gotta figure out how the hell we're gonna catch this vampire and send it t' hell for good."

+ + + + + + +

Calhoun entered the saloon later that afternoon and smiled when he spotted Ezra, sitting alone and playing with his cards. "Good afternoon, Mr. Standish," he greeted as he moved gracefully to the gambler's table. "Mind if I join you?"

Ezra tried to keep a smile on his face, but it was hard. The last thing he wanted was to have to spend any time with Calhoun, but the man seemed intent on spending time with him. "Of course not, Mr. Calhoun. My friends seem to have deserted me for the moment." The gambler cursed the others inwardly. Why couldn't they have been there, or at least a couple of them. He didn't like being alone with this man...he was very unnerving.

"Please, call me John," Calhoun replied as he slid into the empty chair. He smiled inwardly. He was well aware of Ezra's discomfort and it amused him to no end. He captured Ezra's eyes with his own and said, "You seem distracted, Mr. Standish. Is there anything I can help you with?"

Ezra tried to move his eyes away but found he couldn't. The intensity in Calhoun's steady look was somehow mesmerizing, and calming. "Uh, no John."

He started, finding it odd that he immediately reverted to using Calhoun's first name. He hardly ever used his friend's first names, much to their annoyance.

"I am just at a loss for something to occupy me right now. I even find myself bored with playing cards."

"Ah. A restless mind, I know those well," John replied with a smile. "Perhaps a relaxing little ride would help ease it?"

"Uh maybe later, I find myself in need of more whiskey at this moment in time." Ezra raised a hand in the direction of the bar and raised an eyebrow.

"Would you care to join me in a glass, John?" The gambler could not stop the words from spilling from his mouth, and was hard pressed not to retract them immediately. But, sighing inwardly, he readied himself for another uncomfortable conversation with the man.

"Be delighted to," John replied, nodding and smiling his thanks as Inez brought the two glasses over. He caught and held her eyes and said, "My dear lady, it takes true grit for a beautiful woman like yourself to work in a place such as this. I sincerely hope you find what you so truly deserve."

Inez smiled softly. "Thank you, Senor," she replied quietly. She seemed to be trapped in his gaze for a moment longer before Calhoun tipped his hat to her and she blinked, smiled again and moved away.

John turned his attention back to Ezra and raised his glass. "To good health!"

Ezra raised his glass and took a sip from his glass. "Yes, good health to you too sir. I believe you may need the wishes, some of my associates are not too fond of you."

The gambler's eyes grew wide. Why did he say that? He was normally much more reserved and cautious. What was Calhoun doing to him?

Whatever it was, he couldn't seem to stop it. He was drawn to this strange man like a magnet, and could not seem to help himself. He raised his eyebrows briefly in surprise as he realized that he was actually beginning to like the fellow. He couldn't understand why it had taken him so long to realize that this man was not a threat, but just a normal human being trying to be friendly. A small lop-sided grin appeared on his face as he felt himself relax, and he lifted the glass of whiskey to his lips and emptied the contents in one smooth motion.

John laughed softly. "I'm not too concerned. They're worried for young JD and my presence just has them a little turned around. They'll settle down soon enough."

>Got ya,' he thought before his eyes strayed toward the door as it opened and Vin Tanner came in. Their eyes met and wariness immediately took over Tanner's whole body.

He moved over to the table and John offered a friendly smile. "Good Afternoon Mr. Tanner. Care to join us for a drink?"

Vin shook his head. "I'll pass." He looked at Ezra. "Talk to you alone for a minute?"

Ezra looked from Calhoun to Vin before answering. "Mr. Tanner, I am engaged in a conversation with John right now. Is it urgent?"

Vin raised a brow and studied Ezra a moment before nodding. "Yeah."

Ezra sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. "I apologize John. Mr. Tanner needs attention, I'll be back momentarily." The gambler rose from his chair and waited for Vin to move away.

Vin led him to a corner of the room, well out of earshot and regarded the gambler warily. "What was up with that?" he asked, nodding slightly toward Calhoun. "Ya ain't gettin' takin' in my him are ya, Ezra?"

"That's the most absurd thing I have ever heard, Mr. Tanner," Ezra answered in shocked surprise. "I have just decided that the man is not the rogue we thought him to be. He is very pleasant." He looked at Vin disapprovingly.

"And if you took the time to get to know him a little better I'm sure you would come to the same conclusion."

Vin stared at Ezra like he'd lost his mind then shook himself. "We'll talk about it later. Right now we got a bigger problem. Be at the church in thirty minutes. It concerns McDonald's death."

"Now that was not a pretty sight." Ezra wrinkled his nose. "I will be there Mr. Tanner." The gambler glanced over at Calhoun. "Now if we are finished I would like to return to my whiskey."

"Ezra..." Vin glanced again at Calhoun and a shiver went up his spine. "Be careful, all right?"

"Always, Mr. Tanner.... always," Ezra replied pulling on his shirt cuffs. With a slight nod to the tracker, he turned and walked back to the table where Calhoun was still seated. "Well, now that is dealt with, you have my full attention once more," he said as he sat down and picked up his glass.

"Lawmen never rest," John replied with a chuckle. "Mr. Tanner looked rather serious. Is everything all right?"

"Yes, it is just town business. Nothing to concern yourself with," Ezra answered. "We have time for some more whiskey and relaxation before my presence is required elsewhere." Ezra grinned, his gold tooth glinting in the sunlight coming through the window. Yes, a nice fellow indeed.


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