The Bull

by Helen Chavez

Disclaimer: ‘Fraid I just borrowed ‘em - don’t own ‘em – wish I did, ‘cause I just know all of you folks out there would look after them far better’n anyone else …

This one’s about a Bull. And Buck. Oh, and a little thing called ‘animal magnetism’ …

Historical note: The Zebu as a breed was introduced into America in the mid 1850s, and slowly became popular due to its hardiness and tolerance to disease and heat. Selective breeding of these remarkable cattle has created one of the great cattle breeds of the world today – the Brahman.

This particular bull is a bit big for a 19th century Zebu, but I made him a large fella for a reason which will become clear as the tale progresses. Forgive me, dear readers - literary licence, and all that …

Oh, and before I forget - there's a bit of bovine mayem and stuff, so if you're of a sensitive nature then you can skip those few paragraphs, but you'll lose track of the story a teensy bit.

For KT - a rampant Buckaholic, dear friend and fellow lunatic. She also suggested Buck's 'skinny-dipping', and I refuse to take any responsibility for it whatsoever. So sue me.

Feedback welcome, but no flames please … I get upset kinda easy.

Chapter 1

Dear God in the foothills – what in the name of Sam Hill is that??

Buck Wilmington was standing outside the sheriff’s office, the coffee mug in his hand tilting dangerously as he stared open-mouthed at the apparition sauntering unconcernedly down the main street of fair Four Corners.

"Dear Lord …" Ezra Standish emerged from the office doorway and stood beside Buck, lean face slack with wonder.

"Is that what I think it is, Buck?" J.D.’s hazel gaze widened with curiosity.

The three regulators watched the cowhand on the little mustang impatiently attempt to hurry down the street under the frankly amazed gaze of the populace of Four Corners, the man’s face red with effort and embarrassment.

But it wasn’t the frustrated cowhand that was causing the stir of excitement rippling through the groups of inhabitants now beginning to gather on the boardwalks and in doorways – no siree, the object of their perusal and whispers was attached to the cowhand by a rather frail and worn piece of string.

"It’s … it’s a - "

"It’s a bull, J.D." Josiah’s baritone voice bubbled with amusement. The big man emerged from the office, book and coffee cup in hand, tickled mightily at the amazement overwhelming his stunned comrades. "A Zebu, to be precise."

"A … a zee … zee – what??"

"A Zebu. Zeeee … buuuuu. Zebu. They come from India."

J.D.’s hazel eyes once more returned to the strange apparition wandering behind the now fuming cowhand.

"Shit, that has got to be the ugliest goddamned thing I ever saw." Chris Larabee’s voice was soft with shock as he peered from the open doorway.

You got that right, ol’ dog …

Buck sighed.

The beast certainly was odd-looking. It strolled nonchalantly behind the cowhand, massive dewlap swaying with every step, happy to be led by the absurd piece of string attached to the wooden peg in its nose.

But every which way you looked at it, the thing was ugly. There was none of the angular, wild grace of the Texas Longhorn with its eight-foot spread of lethal horns. Nor did it have the rich, red curls and sturdy short-legged frame of the Hereford now beginning to make its appearance on the American grasslands. Nope. The poor critter was just plain ugly.

The long, narrow face was topped by lyre-shaped horns that spread backwards – entirely the wrong way around for defensive purposes – and the beast’s ears … well, God help it, they were too big, and drooped and flapped about like a hound dog’s. But what made it worse was the thing had a hump. A great, big hump over its withers, that wobbled fatly when it walked. And as for the colour … Buck winced. The beast was the dead off-white of a fish’s belly.

To top it all, the animal was enormous. Buck reckoned the big sonofabitch weighed at least a ton.

The now-cursing cowhand finally drew to a halt in front of the office and decanted from the saddle, hauling a crumpled piece of paper from a pocket.

"You the Law ‘round here?"

"Name’s Dunne – J.D. Dunne. I’m the sheriff, an’ these are my associates – "

J.D. proffered a hand. The cowhand shook it suspiciously, eyeing the young man who scarcely seemed old enough to be out of short britches. When nobody laughed, he carried on.

"Makin’ a delivery – I was told to leave this … this thing with you fellas ‘til it c’n be collected. Came in on the train, an’ I was paid ten dollars to deliver it here – ‘bout ninety dollars short if’n you ask me."

He handed J.D. the paper. The young sheriff’s eyes became round as he read the contents.

"You mean this is Jed Sommers’ new seed bull??"

The cowhand stared back grimly.

"Don’t know. Don’t care. Ain’t my problem no more."

He offered J.D. the string, then had second thoughts, and handed the grubby twine to a still open-mouthed Buck Wilmington. Buck took it, unthinking. The bull stood affably, then it grunted and a ball of semi-digested food travelled up the throat and popped into the animal’s mouth with a burp. The aroma of pickled grass filled the air as it began chewing its cud.

Free of his interminable burden, the cowhand swung back into the saddle, and with a whoop left Four Corners a whole lot quicker than he had arrived.

"Dammit! This thing ain’t supposed to be here for another week!" J.D. glanced at the bovine apparition before him. "What the hell are we gonna do with it until Jed comes to pick it up?"

Jed Sommers was a young rancher, a newcomer to the area, hard-working and far-sighted. The Seven knew he had put his ranch on the line to buy this bull. For the life of him, J.D. couldn’t understand why.

The bull suddenly swallowed its cud and blinked myopically at the men before it, then the massive head swung around to sniff at Buck’s sleeve. The moist muzzle twitched as the creature took in the new smells around it, then a long, prehensile tongue crept out and rasped against Buck’s hand. Buck jumped in surprise, and jerked his hand away, wiping it on his pants leg. A light glinted in the bull’s limpid brown eyes, and the tongue came out again, this time pulling at Buck’s shirtsleeve.

"Goddammit!!" Buck tugged his sleeve, now very damp, out of the tongue’s curling grasp.

"Well, well!" Ezra had regained his composure and was peering over J.D.’s shoulder at the paper. "It appears this magnificent example of bovine masculinity has a name, Mr Wilmington." Ezra’s face was deadpan, but the emerald eyes danced with mischief. "Our new friend is called Roland."

None of them missed the sudden twitch of the pendulous ears as Ezra uttered the word.

"Good Lord - it knows its name." Chris’ eyebrows hitched a little.

"You say you seen these animals before, Josiah?" J.D. was getting mighty curious now, the strange beast working on his imagination.

"Yup. Seen ‘em in India. Hindus think a lot of ‘em seein’ as the great god Siva rode one – except his name was Nandi. He was Siva’s mount, attendant, and suchlike – plus Nandi’s the guardian of all four-footed animals. You’ll see cows wandering into folk’s houses, helpin’ themselves to food from stalls – an’ folks just let ‘em. Regarded as an honour and a blessing."

Josiah’s eyes grew distant with memories, still seeing the crowds, the colours, smelling the long-gone scent of spices and ordure, hearing the ever-present sounds of teeming human existence. He smiled.

"Went to Benares once – a Holy city." The smile became wistful. "Ahh, the sun settin’ over the Ganges, the smell of the burning ghats … and you sure as hell ain’t seen anythin’ ‘til you’ve seen the Festival of Light …" Josiah was on a roll now, the images coming quick and strong. "Lord, that sure is a sight to behold, boy."

"Yeah, Josiah – but what do we do with the bull??" J.D. was now getting a tad frustrated.

Josiah came back to earth with a bump.

"Huh? Oh, he shouldn’t be a problem, Zebu’re pretty handy. Sure seems to have taken a likin’ to you, Buck."

Buck had noticed. The bull was now trying to eat his shirt, the wet tongue licking enthusiastically at the soft material. Pushing the huge head away didn’t seem to be working, and the big beast appeared to revel in the attention.

"Give him a scratch, Buck – he’s pretty quiet." Josiah grinned at Buck’s discomfiture.

Buck raised an eyebrow in doubt.

"You think, huh??"

Josiah shrugged.

Buck reached out with a reluctant hand and began to scratch the heavily muscled neck. The bull’s eyes became hazy with delight, his neck arched and his head began to bob up and down in rhythm with the scratch.

"That, Buck, is one happy bull." Chris’ face creased with amusement at the baffled look on his oldest friend’s face. "You still got what it takes, stud."

J.D.’s youthful face lit up with a wide grin.

"Yep. It’s that ol’ animal maggotism workin’ its magic, Buck."

Buck growled in sudden irritation and extreme embarrassment.

"You hush up, kid!! You start talkin’ like that an’ I’m gonna have to whup you into the middle of next week!"

The scratching stopped in an instant – but Roland wanted more. The big head began to rub up and down on Buck’s chest, smearing drool and bull-snot all over Buck’s best shirt. The shirt he had every intention of taking off in the honeyed presence of Miss Blossom this very evening.

Buck’s loud and detailed protestations were cut off as the regulators saw Vin riding into town at a lope, obviously relieved to be finishing his tour of duty patrolling Four Corners’ environs. The relief was short-lived.

Vin’s misbegotten horse had never seen a Zebu before.

Peso spotted the strange beast and his eyes instantly rolled in fear, his forelegs propped and he slewed sideways, desperate to get away from the monster before him.

For probably the very first time in his life, Vin Tanner fell off his horse.

He was so surprised he forgot to relax and roll, and the impact did something pretty awful to his ribs, the pain driving a cry of pure agony from his chest. Peso shied away at the curled-up figure on the ground, now moaning softly, and the black gelding high-tailed it up the street to the livery stable, giving a final sun-fishing buck as he reached his goal.

"Vin!!" Chris hit the street at a run, followed closely by a gaggle of shocked regulators – all except for Buck. A very unhappy and panic-stricken Buck, now frantically trying to figure out what to do with the bull so he could help his friend. Finally, out of sheer desperation, he tied the pathetic piece of string to the hitching post and pelted over to Vin’s side.

"J.D.!!" Chris’ voice was low with urgency. "Get Nathan – dammit, kid, hurry!!"

The black-clad gunman crouched beside the hurt tracker, trying hard to fight the urge to gather the wounded man up and carry him bodily to the clinic – but they had to wait for Nathan. Only Nathan could determine if they could move Tanner without killing him by puncturing a lung, or worse still, hurting his spine.

"Vin? Vin, can you hear me??"

Blue eyes opened and glared painfully at the worried-as-hell Larabee.

"I fe …fell off … my go … goddamn horse!!!" The Texas accent was thick with pain and indignation.

Despite the worry, his friends grinned at the obvious embarrassment in the tracker’s voice.

"Well, Mr Tanner – if it’s any consolation, you did it with both grace and a certain amount of flare. Indeed, I think it would be difficult to find anyone better at such skilled aerial displays as your good self." The humour in Ezra’s lilting southern voice tempered his concern.

"’Ceptin’ J.D. … " Vin’s voice was warm, despite the pain.

"The boy sure can fly … " Buck put a reassuring hand on Vin’s arm.

"Back up, fellas, an’ let me in there!" Nathan Jackson dropped to his knees beside the recumbent and sweating Tanner, dumping his medical bag in the dirt.

The rest of the Seven and a goodly proportion of the citizens of Four Corners hovered like curious bees, concerned, worried or just downright nosy.

Nathan gently checked limbs and neck, then went to work on Tanner’s dusty old coat, easing it aside to palpate the abdomen. Satisfied, skilful fingers then ran over the bruised torso of the tracker and located the ‘give’ of broken ribs.

"Bu … bust a couple … huh ...?" Vin winced.

"Yep. At least two, I reckon - "

Nathan was interrupted by the most godawful noise he had heard in his life.

The air was rent by a high-pitched, choir-boy bellow, piercing and repetitive, an in-drawn, noisy breath followed by an ear-splitting castrato bawl. And it went on, and on, and on …

"Dear God …" Chris winced as the notes of each bellow hit his inner ear while watching Nathan’s face grimace at the racket. He could only hear every other word, Nathan’s voice drowned out by the deafening row.

"Vin …"


" … clinic …"


" ...goddamn noise…"


"… Yosemite’s corral … "


" … NOW!!!! ..."

Roland was heartbroken. The big bull stood, forlorn and drooping, tied ridiculously to the hitching post by a rotting piece of string, robbed of the one thing he adored most in his life.

Buck Wilmington.

Buck was the Holder Of The String, and therefore the single focus of Roland’s life. Well, at least until the next cow came along. But right at this moment in time Buck Wilmington was the only thing that concerned the bull’s somewhat limited brain, and he bellowed his dismay to the world and its brother as loudly as he could.

Chris turned a thunderous face to a wide-eyed ladies’ man.


Buck took the hint. He hurriedly untied the pitiful piece of string, and the huge animal’s bawls stopped instantly in mid-wheeze. The tongue crept out once more to slurp at Buck’s shirt. This time, he smacked the beast hard on the moist muzzle. Roland blinked, his dim brain not understanding why the Adored One would hurt him so. But in one short moment the thought slipped from the few active cells in his brain, and once more he began to nuzzle at the soft shirtsleeve.

Buck turned back to check on Vin, to find to his dismay what appeared to be the whole population of Four Corners staring at him accusingly. Chris and Josiah were preparing to lift the injured tracker and carry him to the clinic, but the glares from the rest of the crowd wounded the big-hearted gunman to his very soul. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but then his shoulders sagged. Oh, what was the point …

He yanked on the fragile twine and headed slowly towards the livery stable, the big bull plodding majestically behind him, hump and dewlap gently swaying with every step.

A moment later, J.D. appeared beside him, the young man keeping pace with his compadre.

"I’ll come with you, Buck, an’ take care of that damn’ mustang of Vin’s, if you like."

Buck turned saddened cobalt eyes to his young friend.

"Wasn’t my fault, kid – damn’ beast just threw a hissy-fit at this – this - THING!"

He gesticulated angrily at the benign and now blissfully happy Roland.

J.D. put a consoling hand on Buck’s broad shoulder.

"I know, Buck. It’s just you were holdin’ the critter at the time …"

Buck sighed gently.

Life can sure be shitty at times …

The thought just made him feel even more depressed.

On reaching the livery stable, J.D. headed inside to unsaddle and feed a mightily amused Peso, while Buck spent the next ten minutes arguing noisily with a stubborn Yosemite, the blacksmith determined not to have such a strange and vastly ugly creature anywhere near his precious horses.

Finally, after much heated discussion and the promise of twice the amount of money Yosemite would normally charge for harbouring the beast, Roland was turned out into a corral on his own and given an armful of sweet lucerne hay to keep him occupied. It soon became obvious that Roland only gave vent to his feelings when he was tied up. Buck tucked the string neatly around the lyre-shaped horns, and left the animal to his own devices, heading back to the clinic at a fast walk, a limping J.D. in tow suffering from a sly Peso-bite to his backside.

For an hour or so, Roland happily munched the rich hay, then he ambled for a while around the corral, the evening light casting weird shadows from the odd animal as it paced slowly around the enclosure.

Then, as darkness finally fell, Roland decided he was bored. He was well-fed, well-watered, comfortable … but lonely. Roland just hated being lonely. The Adored One was somewhere out there in those strange corrals that humans liked to inhabit, and there wasn’t a cow in sight to assuage his desire for companionship.

So, deep in his dim, bovine mind, Roland decided to remedy the situation.

Inserting his massive head through the corral rails, he leaned his enormous bulk against the creaking poles and began to push …

Chapter 2

Ezra P. Standish spread the cards on the green baize of the table – a full house.


Buck threw his cards on the table in disgust, noting with frustration the growing smile of satisfaction on the gambler’s face. Ezra was decidedly smug these days. Ever since he had managed to scrape together enough funds to buy back the Standish Tavern – and schemed, plotted and finally finagled his mother into parting with the place by some so-far-undisclosed act of blackmail – he was indeed a very happy man.

Not only that, but he had just this week replaced all of the gaming tables in the establishment with good-quality new ones, shipped from an exclusive manufacturer back east. He had gone seriously into debt to do it, but the results were worth it - the Tavern had immediately begun to attract more discerning customers, the riff-raff trudging across the street to Four Corner’s other saloon where the whisky was no more than rot-gut, the beer weak and lukewarm, and the food definitely questionable when it came to quality.

He sighed happily.

Josiah shook his head in defeat and threw his abysmal hand face downward on the rich green of the baize. He should have known better than to bluff with only a pair of eights to his name, and he took a sip of his whiskey to try and deaden the disappointment.

"If you so much as let one drop of alcohol fall on my new tables, Mr Sanchez, you will be payin’ for it’s re-coverin’ from that meagre pittance you call an income."

Josiah cocked an eyebrow at the gambler.

"Why don’t you just deal, Ez, before I forget that I’m supposed to be a man of God an’ do some furniture rearrangin’ of my own …"

Standish smirked. With a dimpled smile beginning to spread across his lean face he gathered together the cards and began to shuffle, the cards whispering and rippling in practised fingers. Green eyes twinkled with delight as he started to deal.

Yessiree, Josiah thought grimly, Ezra looks just like the cat that ate the cream … Damn, but Ezra had a talent for pissin’ off a man.

The three peacekeepers were just sorting their cards when a commotion began outside. Voices were raised in consternation, then yells of fear rang out as there was a loud CRASH as something substantial collapsed. The whole building shuddered.

Three guns were out of their holsters before the cards hit the table. Buck, Ezra and Josiah were on their feet and on the point of heading out of the batwing doors, convinced there was some sort of riot erupting on the main street of fair Four Corners. But before they could move a human body pelted through the doors into the saloon, a body with arms waving in panic and a face blanched white with terror.


The unidentified body just kept going, exiting through the door behind the bar while the rest of the better-quality drunks, barflies and ne’er -do-wells that inhabited the Standish Tavern gaped as a mountain burst in through the batwing doors.

It was a slow-moving mountain, to be sure, a bull-shaped mountain with approximately half of Yosemite’s corral fence draped tastefully around its neck. Roland had come looking for his Adored One. The scent had been elusive, but dogged bovine that he was, he had tracked Buck better than a blue-tick hound on the trail of a grizzly.

Roland was having trouble pushing his way through the doorway with his necklace of fence, but he heaved his huge bulk forwards and dragged the wood through anyway, taking most of the doors and a goodly portion of the supporting timbers with him.

Once through, he stood in the doorway, head swinging from side to side as he searched for the scent of Wilmington, Holder of the String, Person Whom He Adored. Ah-hah!!! There he was! The small eyes blinked with delight and he stepped majestically into the room, scattering drunks before him like rats leaving a sinking ship.

He sauntered slowly across the room, hump and corral fence swaying elegantly with every step, crushing tables and chairs without a thought. They were reduced to match-sticks, nothing but splinters and tangled green baize, as Roland sedately meandered towards a Buck Wilmington standing frozen like a mesmerised rabbit.

Buck gripped his gun held in nerveless fingers, the sheer enormity of the disaster unfolding in front of him reducing him to a reasonable imitation of a floundering catfish as his mouth opened and shut wordlessly.

Josiah had to admire Buck’s steadfastness in the face of this calamity. The preacher watched fascinated, as Roland halted beside Buck and that long, prehensile tongue crept out once more and licked Wilmington’s unresisting face, leaving a trail of goo and frothy saliva bubbles on the dark moustache. Then, with a heaving sigh of pleasure, Roland folded his legs and lay down in a groaning heap on the saloon floor, crushing bits of fence and the last of Ezra’s much-prized gaming tables beneath his enormous bulk. Tucking his legs more firmly underneath him and shifting slightly to make himself more comfortable, Roland burped up some cud and began chewing contentedly.

Silence reigned.

"Ezra? Ez … you all right, son?" Josiah’s soft baritone broke the spell.

All hell broke loose as clients – drunk or otherwise – exited the Standish Tavern in record time, and in less than a minute the room was disturbingly empty. Apart, that is, from three flabbergasted regulators and one very content bull.

But Josiah had no time to worry about that. He was concerned about Ezra.

Standish’s face was bone-white, the skin stretched taut, eyes wide with horror.

"J … Jos … tables … bull …"

Now Josiah was really worried. Ezra was completely at a loss for words. This was serious.

"What the …?"

Larabee’s voice echoed around the room as a black-clad figure appeared in the wrecked doorway and the remainder of one of the bat-wing doors finally collapsed and crunched the gunslinger’s right foot.

"Holy shit!!!!"

JD scooted past Chris as the gunman hopped painfully around cursing succinctly, JD sure that he was hearing a few interesting epithets even Buck didn’t know.

"Oh my Lord …"

Utter devastation greeted the young sheriff. The interior was liberally littered with wrecked wood and shards of tables, and the smell of spilled whiskey and stale beer floated aromatically through the dust-filled atmosphere. Broken glasses gleaming dully in the winking light of Ezra’s new chandelier, the one he had had sent from New Orleans only two weeks ago. Unfortunately, the rope holding the cut-glass chandelier was tied to a ring set beside the doorway, and as the remains of the bat-wing door bounced off Chris’ foot the resulting weakening of that particular board brought an ominous creaking from the ceiling.

Without warning the board was wrenched from the saloon’s wall by the weight of the chandelier as it plummeted downwards to crash and shatter in a million diamond-bright pieces on the ruined floor, followed by a large section of the ceiling plaster.

The noise make Roland blink.

He paused in his chewing for a moment and swallowed, his ears flicking gently as dust and plaster peppered his off-white hide. But as the dust settled Roland decided all was well and burped again, slowly resuming his chewing.

Chris’ cussing faded to soft, evil mutterings, and Josiah slowly holstered his Schofield – but Ezra still pointed the Remington at the intruder, Roland lying apparently unconcerned amid the partially demolished saloon. Buck just stood, mouth open, cobalt eyes wide with shock.

Now was not the time for angry outbursts, Josiah decided. That could come later, when Nate had checked out Larabee’s battered foot and made sure Ezra wasn’t sliding into permanent catatonia.

"Buck …" Josiah kept his voice low and reasonable. No answer. He tried again. "Buck … I reckon it might be a good idea to get the beast out of here, don’t you?"

Cobalt eyes blinked as though their owner had awoken from a deep sleep.


"Buck … the bull? Get him out of here?"


Josiah turned at the soft voice. Ezra was trying to thumb back the hammer on the Remington, but his hand was shaking so much the digit couldn’t get a grip.

"Ez, you can put the gun away now …"

"No Josiah – Ah am now going to shoot the bull." Ezra actually sounded quite reasonable, Josiah thought.

"You can’t shoot the bull Ezra – it’s Jed Sommers’ bull – he paid a lot of money for the beast - "

"Josiah … please remove yourself from the line of fire. Ah am going to shoot the bull. Right now. This minute." Ezra’s accent was getting thicker by the second.

"Ez …" Josiah had moved to stand in front of the Remington, not exactly the greatest of ideas he realised, as Ezra managed finally to cock the hammer. Roland turned an amiable bovine visage to gaze benignly on the incensed southerner.

Buck suddenly clicked into reality. Ezra. Gun. Bull. Saloon. Oh God. The saloon …

Sliding his revolver back into its holster he bent down and began feverishly to untie the string looped around Roland’s horns, the big animal trying his utmost to breathe affectionately on Buck’s face.

Josiah tried again, valiantly ignoring Larabee’s curses as JD helped him hobble to the only unbroken chair in the room.

"Ezra … give me the gun …"

"I say let him shoot the sonofabitch …" Larabee’s growling tones just sent more plaster dust raining from the ceiling. Or rather, what was left of it.

Chris Larabee, if I had the time right now I’d kick your ass all the way to Hell and back …

Josiah gritted his teeth as he tried to keep his temper under control. Larabee sometimes had the goldarndest knack for saying the wrong damn’ thing at the wrong damn’ time …

It was at that moment Roland decided to heave his not inconsiderable bulk to his feet. Now as it happened, the lucerne hay that Yosemite had fed him earlier had been of a particularly fine quality, and Roland’s four-chambered stomach had processed it in double-quick time. So as Roland arose he did the time-honoured thing that cattle do when they stand up.

He defecated.

His back arched, his magnificently plumed tail rose akimbo, and he groaned with relief as he dumped a richly green and very runny pile of manure on Ezra’s fine wooden floor. To finish off, he coughed genteely, and the last few dollops were sprayed artfully on the nearest upright objects – which in this case were a certain Ezra P. Standish and a dumbfounded Josiah Sanchez.

Ezra suddenly looked about ready to burst into tears.


Josiah stood, feeling a particularly large, warm gob of green, stinking goo slide down his cheek. Now he was pissed.

"Yeah, Ez?" The baritone voice was calm, controlled, and to anyone who knew the big preacher, absolutely terrifying.

"I think …" Ezra was having difficulty getting the words out, partly because of shock but mostly because he couldn’t bear the idea of getting something unspeakable in his mouth. "I think I’m coming down with one of my Sick Headaches …" Ezra swallowed. He thought he was going to be sick.

Josiah’s azure eyes turned to Buck, now looking at his two shit-covered compadres with horror.


Buck Wilmington finally found his voice.


"Buck …" Josiah tried to compose himself as best he could, but it was a little difficult to be dignified when you were covered in bull-shit. "Buck. Take the bull away. Now. Before I turn him into beef steak with my bare hands. And you know I can do it, too. And then … and then I may just come after you. What I’m gonna do when I catch you I ain’t figured out yet. But it will be painful, Buck. Very, very painful. Comprende?"

"But Josiah - " Buck couldn’t understand why everyone was blaming him. It wasn’t his fault the goddamn beast had taken a shine to him!

"Not now, Buck." Josiah turned dangerously calm, clear blue eyes to the big gunman. "Later. Much, much later. All right?"

Buck sighed. He looked around at the catastrophe laid out before him and winced. Lord knows what price Ezra would exact from his hide, even though it was Jed’s bull that had done the damage. He wasn’t responsible one little bit!! But that sure as hell wouldn’t stop the gambler from bleeding him dry for months.

The devastated ladies’ man caught hold of Roland’s piece of string and yanked, but he didn’t even really need to lead the big animal – Roland followed on happily, still wearing the remains of Yosemite’s corral.

Josiah watched, blue eyes smouldering like the very pits of hell, as Buck and bull exited through the hole left by Roland’s entry into the saloon, brushing past a cursing and very sore Chris Larabee, the glare the gunman sent in Roland’s direction making no impact whatsoever.

Josiah managed to ease the Remington from Ezra’s unresisting fingers and saw the pain beginning in the green eyes. Perhaps Ez wasn’t kidding – as if Standish ever joked about such things – and he really was coming down with one of those debilitating headaches he suffered from on occasion, although to be fair it was usually after one of Maude Standish’s rare visits. Maude had a way of driving Ezra nuts, that was for sure.

"JD? I think you’d better go get Nathan. Ezra don’t look too good. Oh, and while you’re at it you’d better tell him about Chris’ foot. He might have broken somethin’ …"

JD hurried out of the saloon into the clear summer night, Larabee’s detailed description of what he was going to do to the bull and to Buck Wilmington in that order ringing in his ears.

Josiah caught Ezra by the elbow and thought about where he should take the gambler first – the bath-house or his room. Ezra sure was covered with a lot of shit. For a split second Josiah thought the situation was pretty apt. Ezra and bull-shit. Sounded just about right.

Sighing, he guided the unresisting gambler out of the wrecked saloon and headed towards the bath-house.

+ + + + + + +

Over the next couple of days Buck Wilmington’s life became a living nightmare.

He was still trying to avoid Yosemite, the big blacksmith uttering loud and defamatory threats against Wilmington’s life, and he had to bed the bull down behind Josiah’s church. That, however, wasn’t such a good idea when the tethered Roland set up such a racket that Josiah – now clean but still redolent with the aroma of bovine effluvia – came charging out of the church with a large and weighty piece of timber clutched in big hands. Josiah explained to a sputtering Wilmington that the bull would go a long way to feeding the Seminole village for a considerable length of time – the meat, of course, wind-dried into jerky – and if he didn’t remove said bull pronto, Buck would be hanging next to the dismembered Roland, also in suitably-sized and manageable portions.

Buck moved the bull.

His rendezvous with Miss Blossom also ended in unmitigated disaster. He had managed to tie Roland to the hitching post and kept him occupied with an armful of fodder he had wangled from JD, who in turn had finagled it out from under Yosemite’s nose. JD’s price for this piece of petty thievery was a promise from Buck to pay for his next six issues of Saturday Night Magazine, a notoriously risqué publication that had JD taking far more cold baths than were good for him.

Unfortunately for Buck, Roland’s consumption of fodder was far speedier than Buck’s courtin’ methods, and he had only managed to strip down to his red Empire combinations when Roland finished his last mouthful of feed, and his dim brain suddenly realised that the Adored One was once more absent without leave.

The noise was deafening, and did Buck’s relationship with the succulent and very willing Miss Blossom no good at all. She informed Buck in no uncertain terms that his nights ensconced within her comfortable and warm feather bed were numbered if he didn’t do something about the bull.

Things went from bad to worse when Buck realised that if he strayed more than five feet in any given direction from Roland the beast dissolved into mournful squeaky bellows, the animal bawling monotonously until Buck appeared and swore at him.

Unfortunately the cussin’ made the respectable ladies of Four Corners put in an official complaint to JD, who had to take Buck to task on the matter. This was done outside the office of the jail as Buck couldn’t leave Roland to go inside, with Mary Travis standing indignantly behind Chris, who sat outside glaring at his best and oldest friend with his foot – bandaged and swollen – propped on the chair beside him. Mary’s presence was requested by JD, as she had told JD that if Buck didn’t stop cussin’ in front of the gang of children that followed Buck and Roland about just to hear what the big gunman would say next, then she would do her damndest to make sure JD was never elected sheriff again. Roland just watched Buck, curious as to why these strange humans spent a lot of time yelling at one another.

After two days of living hell, Buck sat down in front of what was left of the saloon and sighed in misery. Roland was happily lying down in front of the hitching rail, his Buck-sensor in full search mode. Checking that Buck was within range he burped up cud and relaxed. He was eating regularly, he had companionship, and the Adored One spoke to him constantly – albeit rather loudly – and he garnered plenty of attention from the small persons of Four Corners. Yes indeed, life was good.

Buck sighed again. Well, at least there was one good thing about having a bull as a friend. The children of Four Corners adored Roland. Once they had got over their amazement at his sheer bulk and the natural nervousness that accompanied being around a one-ton bull, they realised that Roland was extremely even-tempered. By the evening of the first day of Buck being afflicted with Roland, they had discovered that the big bovine loved attention.

In fact, once the matrons of the town had realised that their children were in absolutely no danger whatsoever of being squashed, gored or trampled by the beast, they discovered that they were actually on to a Good Thing. They knew exactly where their offspring were, they had a peace officer in constant attendance, and they had a built-in garbage disposal service for all things vegetarian in the shape of one Zebu bull.

Not only that, Roland was exceptionally amenable, and children from toddlers to teenagers could clamber over his huge frame in total safety. He never seemed to mind having his ears pulled, his tail teased or having small bodies scrambling over his broad back as he lay happily in the dust, jaw moving rhythmically as he chewed, eyes half closed with pleasure at all of the attention. Nothing seemed to faze him. Indeed, several of the more mischievous members of the little pack that swarmed around the beast let off a few firecrackers near him and all Roland did was blink in surprise. The offenders were swiftly apprehended and duly had their backsides paddled by their furious mothers.

But, Buck decided, things couldn’t continue the way they were. Nobody but the children ever spoke to him, he couldn’t go into the saloon for a drink to drown his woes as Ezra – speaking from his sick-bed – had banned him, Inez wouldn’t feed him because he had upset Ezra, and when he swallowed his pride and went to unburden his woes to Josiah the big preacher made him stand outside the church and discuss it, as Roland would have been more than happy to lumber his way up the steps into the church and support Buck in his hour of need.

Dammit, thought Buck. If Jed Sommers couldn’t come and get the sonofabitch, then he, Buck Wilmington, would take the damn bull to Jed.

The decision made, Buck went to saddle his horse. Roland heaved himself to his feet, shedding children like lice as he amiably waited for them all to get out of the way, and happily followed the Adored One down the street.


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