Hell of a Miss
CHRIS LARABEE, I'M CALLIN' YOU OUT!
Five sets of eyes around the early morning breakfast table looked to the sixth set, which narrowed and slid around to each of his eating companions, a frown furrowing his brow and turning the lips downward, a look more of annoyance than fright.
"What day is today?" Buck asked, breaking the sudden silence that had occurred.
"Monday," came the reply from his right. "Why?"
"LARABEE, YOU IN THERE? COME OUT AND FACE ME YA YELLA STRIPED . . ."
"Just a hell of a way to start a week is all," he answered as he ripped the napkin tucked under his chin out, tossed it on the table, and got up along with the five other men.
Vin Tanner moved to point and headed out the bat wing doors flanked by the rest of the peacekeepers, unknowingly moving Chris to their center as if to protect the man.
"Glad you could join us Ezra," Josiah said as the gambler came down the steps finishing his dressing routine, no doubt being roused by the early morning shout.
"Hard to sleep with some cretin out in the middle of the street bellowing like a moronic imbecile," he groused as the green velvet jacket slid on over the hidden derringer. "Why I allow myself to suffer these indecencies is beyond . . ." the complaint smothered as another blast sounded from the man standing in the middle of the street.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't the man himself; the great Chris Larabee," the heckler sneered loudly as he watched Larabee come front and center and his men fan out from him.
"You need your babysitters along to come out and meet me?" he carried on, realizing the man he was talking to was just looking at him passively, as if he were no threat.
"Somethin' I can do for you?" came the question in a very calm voice, but nevertheless a challenging one.
"Hell yes, you son of a bitch. You can draw, cain't ya? Yer suppose ta be fast ain't ya?"
"You recognize him Chris?" Buck whispered from behind him.
One shake of the head was the answer as the man in black stepped off the boardwalk and into the street.
"Do I know you?" was the next question Larabee asked as he took a closer look at the young man facing him. Couldn't be much older than JD Chris figured.
"Not now, but you will, big man and you'll pay for what you did, you'll suffer for it. Now quit jawin' and get down to business."
"It's early son, why don't you come . . ." Josiah began as he moved down the boardwalk paralleling the shootist.
"I ain't yer son and back off horse face," the young man spit out, looking at the big man. "Quit stalling Larabee. What's the matter, you afraid?" he said in a taunting voice, turning to face the gunman again.
"You don't want to do this," Chris tried one last time, knowing full well this was only going to end one way.
"I'll shoot you where you stand you coward, but I'd rather make it look like a fair fight," came the arrogant reply, the young man backing up a few steps as if to show the man that he was ready for this to begin. "Come on, Larabee, be a man, for once."
"Shore knows how ta sweet talk a man don't he?"
Chris heard the raspy drawl come from his right back and the lips quirked. His men were all lined up along the saloon front waiting for him to make his move, one way or another.
"And just why are we doin' this?" the third question coming from the man in black. He really hated to kill someone without knowing who they were or why they were wanting a piece of him.
"Damn, you're as talkative as an ol' woman! Maybe you are an ol' woman. I told ya, cowboy, you'll find out. You'll know who I am and so will everyone else after I kill the great Chris Larabee," the young man crowed.
"Well, that did it," Chris heard Buck whisper loudly to JD. "Called him a 'cowboy'. That boy has got ta die, no doubt about it," the words punctuated with a nod of his head.
JD tore his eyes from the scene in front of him to glance at his friend. He didn't know for the life of him how Buck or even Vin could make jokes at a time like this. Chris was going to be in a gunfight, he could get hurt, killed maybe even and they were making jokes? Sometimes he wondered if he'd ever get used to this life. He mentally shook himself and stared back out as he watched Chris begin to move into position walking toward the middle of the street.
"'Bout time Larabee, thought you'd never get up the guts ta get out here," the young man said in that arrogant tone of his. Then with a tilt of his head he asked, "Your egg-suckin' hound dogs gonna stay outta this or do I have ta worry about them gunnin' for me after I kill you?"
"My my, but that young man has got quite a charming repertoire doesn't he?" Ezra pointed out. "Your mother must be so proud," he said loud enough for the young gunslinger to hear, as he moved along the boardwalk and to the other side of the street, staying to the back of Chris and to the left.
"Yeah, if ya got time to pick your shot Chris, I'd say aim for the mouth," Buck tossed in as he too, moved across the way and got into position, opposite Chris, checking as he went, looking for anything out of the ordinary.
Vin backed up along the sidewalk until he was flanking the back of Chris, but still on his right, resting against a post scanning the roof tops just to be sure no one else was going to interfere or try to gun down Chris from the back. Ezra was doing the same from across the way.
Nathan and Josiah had each moved to flank the young man, one on each side of the street, staying on the boardwalk, well out of the way also checking alleyways and rooftops.
JD was still standing just outside the saloon, almost frozen to the spot. He'd never actually seen Chris go one on one with anyone. Oh he knew Larabee was fast, he'd seen him draw before, but not like this, not like what he'd read about in those dime store novels of his. This was the real thing and he hoped, no, he knew, no one was faster than Chris Larabee.
"Anytime you're ready," Larabee's calm voice spoke in the morning air.
Licking his suddenly dry lips, the young man snorted out, "And when I kill you, what goods it gonna do me if all your law dogs shoot me down afterwards?"
"Well, for one thing, your name will be immortalized in history books for centuries to come. Just think of all the young minds that will know and recognize your name for what you accomplished. Why, you'll be a household name. You could even . . ."
"Shut up fancy pants, you'll be the next one I kill."
Josiah sighed and said more to himself than anyone, "Sure has a lot of hate for one so young."
"There won't be an 'afterwards', 'cept'n to carry you off," Larabee's words spoken not in arrogance but in a quiet confidence that almost . . . almost made the young man stop and think.
"Let's do this and then we'll see whose carried off."
Silence reined for a few short seconds as gun hands were held close their weapons and breathing slowed, eyes narrowed and strained and then, in a spit second, it was all over.
Slowly pulling his gun hand back, Larabee gave a slight grimace at the prone body of the young man he'd just killed.
"You alright Chris?" Buck yelled to him, looking for any indication that his old friend had been hit. "Cleared leather pretty fast, but he sure had poor aim," he added, heading out into the street.
"What the hell was that?" Chris asked, his free hand held out as if in question. "Did he have any bullets in the damn thing?"
Picking up the dead man's colt, Josiah checked and told them that indeed the gun had been loaded and fired.
Coming past him Ezra took a quick scan of the man in black and noticed him to be quite hole free. "It would appear the only thing he was good at was running off at the mouth. Have you perchance come to the conclusion of his identity yet?"
"Not a clue."
"Well, perhaps he'll have some papers on him that will enlighten us. Always a shame to see an unmarked grave," the gambler deadpanned as he moved off to join the others.
Turning slightly to his right as he reholstered his gun, Chris looked at JD who was still in the same spot. "You alright kid?" he asked, watching the slow nod coming from the speechless young man.
"That was . . . was," he said and pointed, first to the dead young man and then to Chris. Swallowing big, he finally found his voice, "That was somethin' Chris, really somethin'," was all he could get out. He was truly awed and speechless.
"Yeah somethin'," Chris repeated softly, disgustedly. "Just wish I knew what the hell he was tryin' to prove."
Turning more to his right, his eyes flicked to the tracker who was still standing by the post; actually, more like leaning against it, or more like it was holding him up. His eyes narrowed in on the man. Something's not right, his mind told him.
The Calvary hat came up at the same time the hands came away from the belly. Chris saw two things at once that made his blood run cold; surprise and shock in the blue eyes and blood on the hands.
"NATHAN!" he yelled as he ran over to the tracker who was starting to slide down the post.
"Easy Vin, take it easy," he soothed, helping his friend to sit down against the post, watching the eyes close tightly and the jaw clench, fighting the pain.
"Reckon I'll . . . I'll jest sit a spell," the words came forced out between haggard breaths.
"Reckon we need to get you to the clinic," Chris said worried now that Vin might black out on him as he took his bandana from his duster pocket to put against the wound letting Vin keep his own pressure on it. "Stay with me Vin, just hold on."
"Missed ya didn't he?"
"Missed me, hit you."
"Hell of a miss."
Pained blue eyes met concerned hazel ones and held, saying a lot without needing to be voiced. A whispered "Dammit" came from the man in black as his mind replayed the shooting. Their 'conversation' was interrupted by the healer coming up next to them.
"Spread out!" Larabee stood and yelled to his men. "There's another shooter somewhere. Check that building over there," he pointed to the hotel kitty-corner from where they stood, a perfect spot to ambush the tracker from some second floor windows.
"Let me see Vin," Nathan said gently as he moved the bloody hands away from the wound.
"Bad spot Nathan," hissed out the wounded man in response to hearing the healer's deep sigh.
"We need to get you to the clinic Vin. Chris?"
Helping Nathan get the tracker up, it set his blood to boil hearing his friend's painful moans. Someone had set him up to get to Vin and that didn't set well with him at all. Someone was going to pay . . . dearly.
While the rest of the peacekeeper scoured the town for the extra man Chris felt was out there, Vin was being helped gingerly up the two flights of stairs to the clinic. It was slow going and the tracker nearly gave out after the exertion of the steps, the strong arms of his friends his only salvation from meeting the flooring the hard way.
Stumbling through the clinic door with their wounded friend, they came face to face with the barrel of a gun.
"Well well, if it ain't my ol' friend Chris Larabee," a tall, gangly, pocked-faced man sneered. "Looks like ya got a bit of a problem there, now don't it?" he said, motioning to the semi-conscious tracker. "He ain't lookin' so good is he?"
"What the hell you want Kingsly?" Chris said as he shifted Vin to get a better hold of the man. It felt as though the tracker was going to slip to the floor and take both he and Nathan with him.
"Just you Larabee, just you," he said with an evil grin. "I almost got the job done 'cept I'm not as good a shot as I used ta be, especially with a pistol from that range, him bein' alive an' all," the gun motioned at Tanner.
"If it's me you want, then why shoot him?" Larabee asked, trying to buy some time. They needed help and they needed it fast. Neither he nor Nathan were in any position to pull their weapons, their hands being used at the moment to hold Vin up.
"Shut the damn door and get in here," came the curt answer. "Put Tanner on the floor, over there," he motioned with his head to a place near the bed. "No sense in messin' up the bed, he ain't gonna last long way he's bleedin' out. But first," he added before the two men made a move, "take yer guns out and his'n too, toss 'em on the floor and then move away."
Nathan and Chris did as they were told, only too happy to lay their friend down. Vin was indeed bleeding bad enough now that it had pooled on the floor where they had been standing. Gently laying him down and trying to make him comfortable, Chris stood up, fists clenched and fire in his eyes.
"You'll never get away with this," he said with deadly certainty.
"Sure I will Larabee. He'll be dead and you'll suffer. Whole reason behind this. Just like I suffered when you killed my baby brother Roy. 'Member him Larabee? Just a kid and you shot him down like a dog."
"He was robbin' a bank as I recall. Killed a teller and shot a woman."
"He was injured!" the outlaw spat out. "He was injured, couldn't run ta get away and you killed him, never gave him a chance."
"He was aimin' at me, left me no choice."
"No choice?! Ha! Well, I ain't got no choice now either," he said as he pointed his gun at Tanner. He can't run neither and now he's gonna die and you are gonna have ta watch. An' he's worth five hundred dollars dead or alive, that's icin' on the cake I figure."
Nathan moved from where he was squatting next to Vin in order to cover the man just as Chris moved between the gunman and his friends.
With a sneer, Larabee growled out. "You'll never see that money."
"Ain't the way I see it, gunslinger. I'm the one callin' the shots here, case ya ain't noticed."
"So why the kid? Why send him to call me out? What's he got to do with this?" Keep him talking, he thought.
"Nothin'. Just a loud-mouth, wet-behind-the-ears kid who wanted ta make a name for hisself gunnin' down the great Chris Larabee. 'Course . . ." and he laughed, "I told him I'd be backin' him from the hotel window 'cross the way, not my fault if he mistook the idea that I'd be shootin' at you. Plan worked perfectly. You're all so predictable, knew Tanner would be out. Just standin' there pretty as you please and all I had ta do was shoot when the kid did--and I'm good at that, practiced a lot 'fore I headed here.
"Now move away from him, both of ya!" he said, motioning with the gun for them to step away from the injured man. I need ta finish this . . ."
"You'll have to kill me first."
"And then me," came Nathan's voice behind Chris.
"Chris . . . do as he says," came a weak raspy voice. "You too Nath . . . an. Just move 'way, don't want ya ta be in the line of fire."
"Can't do that Vin, won't do it," the soft reply came in sharp contrast to the deathly glare given by the man in black to the shootist. A thought played in the back of his mind. He'd almost swear he'd heard something in that hurting voice, a message maybe? If he didn't know better, it sounded like Tanner wanted both him and Nathan out of the way, don't want ya ta be in the line of fire, but whose fire? Did Vin have a weapon? What if he was wrong? He'd be leaving Vin wide open to Kingsly's bullet.
"Do it cowboy . . . don't . . . 's'kay, jest . . . jest do it."
Kingsly grinned and pulled the trigger back as Nathan stood up and the two men started to move away from Vin.
"You're a dead man," Chris growled at the man with the gun.
"Probably, maybe," Kingsly said, sliding his eyes to Larabee, "but I'll be a happy dead man, knowin' that you know how it feels ta watch a part of yourself die."
A movement from the corner of his eye made the killer shift his look, but it was too late, the only thing he saw was the finished hand movement and then felt instant pain as the knife embedded itself high in his gun-hand shoulder.
Chris moved with lightening speed knocking the colt out of the man's hand, then put his leg behind the man's heels and tripped him up, Kingsly landing hard on his back and Larabee straddling him.
"You wanna know what bein' happy is?" came the growl and a feral grin, the eyes turning black with deadly rage as Chris took hold of the knife handle and twisted it, the man's scream bouncing off the walls.
The doors to the clinic, both front and back slammed open as four peacekeepers broke in, guns ready at hand.
"What the . . .?" Buck started to say, taking in the scene before him. Nathan was working at getting an unconscious tracker onto the bed and Chris was sitting on a man dealing out his own brand of punishment.
"Glad we got here in time to help," the ladies man snorted as he and the others holstered their guns.
Josiah and Ezra both moved quickly to help Nathan; Buck came up behind Chris and JD kept a vigil at the front door . . . just in case there was anyone else out there.
"Let him go stud," Buck said softly, putting his hand on Chris's tense shoulder. Let us put him behind bars, he'll do the time. Come on Chris," Buck said, with a little more force this time. "Vin needs ya now, he don't need this to be goin' on in here, and neither does Nathan. Let me and JD handle this."
Reluctantly Chris moved off the man, but not without one more twist of the knife before ruthlessly pulling it out. "Oh, he'll hang for this, he set that kid up, might as well of put the bullet in him himself. And if, if Tanner dies," he said, kneeling down and pulling the man up 'til he was face to face, "you won't make it to the gallows, I'll see to that." Letting the man go with a push, Larabee backed away. "Get this piece of shit out of here."
Buck grabbed the man, manhandling him and pushing him out the door. Before leaving though he asked, "Vin?"
With a shake of his head, Larabee said, "Don't know, bastard made us stand here while he bled. Couldn't take care of him," his eyes strayed over to where Nathan and now Josiah were getting their friend's jacket and shirt off. So much blood he noted and visibly winced.
With a solumn nod and a grim face, Buck told Chris he and JD would be back to check on Vin. Wanting to know if they should do anything for the killer's wound, Nathan had yelled over to keep a bandage on it and he'd see to it when he was done with Vin.
Chris snorted at that. Rather the man just died in the jail cell . . . waiting. Wait long enough and maybe he would be. He didn't even deserve to be breathing. His thoughts were interrupted as Nathan told him and Ezra to leave, that he and Josiah would take care of Vin.
"How's his chances Nathan?" Chris wanted to know as he came and looked down at his friend.
"They're good Chris. Bullet tore along his gun belt, kept it from goin' too deep. Lost a lot of blood though, gonna be weak and sore for a time. But I don't foresee any problems, providing we get started here."
The slight push was noted, but before leaving he bent down near the tracker's ear and whispered to him, "You hang in there Vin, 'member you promised to show me where those wild horses are. I've never known you to back down on your word, so I don't expect you to now." With a curt nod then, he stood up and walked out, not looking back, trusting his friend to do what he'd asked.
Later that night Chris sat watching and waiting for his good friend to wake up. Nathan had gotten the bullet out easy enough, but Vin had lost a lot of blood which left him pale and weak. The healer believed there wouldn't be any problems as long as Tanner rested and gave himself time to heal. And Chris appointed himself guardian to make sure that happened.
Putting his book down when Vin started to stir, he moved closer and into his line of vision. If Vin opened his eyes, he wanted to make damn sure his friend saw him and didn't panic about where he was.
Nathan came over also and sat on the bed next to Vin in order to make sure he didn't make any sudden movements. Sometimes when a person woke up after having been injured, they tended to do so with such as start that they hurt themselves again. He wanted to make sure that didn't happen. He didn't want to have to do any restitching.
A slight moan came first and then the blue eyes popped open, and for a second a frantic look was seen in them, but settled when Nathan talked to him and he focused in on Larabee's concerned face.
"Everthin' okay?" he croaked out as Nathan raised his head a little and gave him a sip of water. A whispered "damn" was followed by the eyes shutting tightly against the pain.
"Everything's fine Vin," Chris reported. "Just need you to take it easy and get well."
"You remember what happened?" Nathan tested him.
Opening his eyes once again, he locked onto Chris's and studied them for a second. "Missed you, hit me," he whispered.
"Hell of a miss." Chris said with a nod and a grin lifted the corners of his mouth.
The blue eyes closed in silent affirmation and a small smile ghosted across his face.
"What does that mean?" Nathan asked, knowing full well something had happened between the two that he had missed out on.
"It's what he said, after he was shot. Kid never crossed over, like he would have had he been shootin' at Vin," Chris showing the motion with his gun hand to help Nathan understand. "Had to be someone else."
Nathan shook his head. "I don't know what it is about you two, I'd a never thought that, same as when you moved so's he could throw that knife. How'd you know to do that? I gave it to him to use, but how did you know?"
Thinking for a minute, Chris shrugged his shoulders. "Don't know, can't explain it. A feeling I guess."
"Well, whatever it is, I'm glad it's there," Nathan said with a nod of his head. "Saved his life and ours, that's for sure. Well," he said, getting up, "if you want to stay here for abit I'll go let the other fellas know he's gonna be alright and that he's awake."
"Be right back then."
The door opened and closed and the blue eyes blinked awake once again.
"That fella . . .?" he left the sentence hanging, partly because it weakened him to talk and partly because he knew Chris would know what he wanted.
"Names Kingsly. I killed a younger brother of his a few years back. Bank robbery. Wanted revenge, so he came here lookin' for me, 'cept he figured to get you in a payback instead. Kill you, get the bounty money and send me to a livin' hell. He's in the jail cell, he might make it 'til the Judge gets here."
The eyes narrowed. "Might?"
"Besides the knife wound, nice throw by the way, I guess he fell down the steps when Buck and JD were taking him to the jail. Got a couple busted ribs and a concussion. Man seems to be a walking accident," an eyebrow quirked in amusement.
A stifled chuckle and a painful gasp came out of the injured man. "Damn, don't make me laugh Larabee." Then a somber looked crossed the handsome features. "'M'sorry Chris."
"What the hell you sorry for?"
"He came fer me . . ."
"To get back at me Vin. I should be the one apologizing, not you."
"You had ta kill that kid."
"Woulda happened sooner or later, if it wasn't me it would have been someone else. Least here, Josiah can say somethin' over his grave. It's more than he would have gotten anywhere else."
"Chris." The word came out whispered, almost a plea and it tore at the gunman's heart.
"I know Vin, I know." he answered softly. " Anytime. You just say the word."
Slowly moving his right arm toward his friend and grasping the other's forearm in their handshake, they reaffirmed their commitment made to one another one day long ago.
The moment ended when the door to the clinic opened and five happy men made their way inside to say hello, give good wishes and raise a little 'quiet' hell to one of their own.