Pueblo del Rosa
Disclaimer: The characters of the Magnificent Seven do not belong to me. I do not expect nor plan to make a profit from the use of them. All original characters come from the murky depths of my own psyche, and I still expect to make no profit from them.
Authors Note: This fic was inspired by one of my favourite westerns. Feedback will be treated like the precious gold that it is. Enjoy.
Pueblo del Rosa, TexasMidday. At this time of day most folks were indoors avoiding the harsh Texas sun. The main street was quiet, nothing moving down its narrow avenue. The only movement was a small boy listlessly sweeping the porch of the saloon.
He would slowly stir up a cloud of dust, pause and take a small step to the side and start again. Around ten or twelve years old, the thin boy was dressed in hand-me-down clothes, his shirt too big and his trousers too short. Despite appearances, his job wasn't the impossible task of clearing the porch of sand and dirt. Instead, his task was to keep watch for Hank, the owner of the saloon.
Business was slow for the saloon, only a couple of regulars were seated in its darkened confines. Hank was sitting near the door of the saloon, working on his account books. His position was well chosen, as from where he sat you could see through the open door but remain hidden from anyone outside.
When Hank heard the kid's signal that strangers had arrived, he closed his account book, tucked it under his arm and slowly stood. He unlatched the catch holding one of the swing doors open and let the door swing shut. Still hidden in the shadows of his saloon, Hank leaned on the closed doors and studied the new arrivals.
Three strangers were slowly riding up the main street, their horses exhausted and the men looking no better. "Where are they heading, kid?
Without looking up at Hank, the boy answered, Sheriff's.
Still studying the strangers, Hank hissed, How'd you know?
The kid bit his lip and clenched the broom handle tighter, before stuttering quickly, The guy with the red bandanna and the Mexican are bounty hunters. The guy riding in the middle is their bounty.
A blind man could figure that out! What else? Hank growled.
Trying to hide his shaking hands, the boy stammered quickly, The bounty hunter with the bandanna is hurt, he's guardin' his ribs. The man they've brung in is also hurt, he's got blood under that jacket and on his thigh.
Completing his own study of the strangers, Hank glanced at the trembling boy and said, What's the bounty hunter's name? He watched as the boy froze, his knuckles white as he gripped the broom-handle. The kid didn't turn around, but Hank knew his eyes were darting with fear as he desperately tried to place the bounty hunter. Well? Hank demanded.
With his heart pounding like a steam engine, the boy gasped, I don't know, sir.
Hank virtually exploded out of the doors, knocking the kid flying. Sprawled on the porch, his broom beneath him, the boy felt Hank grab a fistful of his shirt and yank him to his feet. Brought face to face with the saloon-owner, the child couldn't help the small 'yelp' that escaped when he saw the fury on Hank's face.
You. Don't. Know? Each word was like a gunshot to the boy, and he flinched. What the hell do I keep you around for, if you can't even mark a low-down bounty hunter? Hank spat, shaking the slight frame of the kid with each word.
The irate saloon owner turned the terrified child towards the bounty hunters now dismounting at the Sheriff's office. Look again and tell me who is he is!
The small boy knew, knew with a certainty of experience, that unless he identified the bounty hunter, Hank was going to beat him within an inch of his life. His brain spurred on by the fear of yet another beating, the kid stared at the bounty hunter with the red bandanna.
The man was tall, with hands the size of dinner plates. He walked with the unconscious grace of a gunfighter, confident in his skill and youth. The man was in his prime and looked strong, dressed in clothes that were a cut above that of the average cowhand. But none of these details could tell the boy who he was. Desperation began to flutter in his heart as he studied the man, Hank's fist clenching tighter and tighter in his shirt.
Finally, the object of his intense scrutiny took off his black Stetson, and revealed black hair, and a vicious scar running from the corner of his eye to his chin. The scar near his eye leant him the appearance of a very sinister, very bad man and the kid knew all about 'bad' men.
Max Steele. The bounty hunter is Max Steele.
Grinning slightly Hank nodded and hissed, And the Mexican?
Wracking his brain, the kid smiled briefly as he remembered who worked with Steele. He ain't a Mexican. Goes by the name of Rodrico and comes from Spain.
Giving the boy a rough shake, Hank growled, Good. What about the fool they managed to catch?
The fear that had begun to subside when it appeared he was right, flared anew at Hank's latest demand. The boy watched intently as Rodrico pulled the wanted man out of the saddle, trying to find some sort of identifying mark. But before he could, the Spaniard had hustled the limping bounty into the Jail, followed closely by Max Steele.
I don't know, sir, the kid whispered, his trembling fear palpable. But rather than feel a fist or open hand, the kid was tossed down the two steps of the porch and sent sprawling into the dirt.
Then find out! Hank ordered and by the time the boy could pick himself up and look behind him, the saloon owner had disappeared back inside his business, leaving only a swinging door as testament that he had ever been there.
Dusting himself off, the boy sighed as he noticed a new rip to the leg of his pants. Bending down to see if he had broken any skin as well, the boy fingered the ragged material. What in the hell are you waiting for? Get moving! Hank's bellow from inside the saloon sent the small child scurrying towards the Jail.
+ + + + + + +
Deputy Dwayne Schultz was sent tumbling from his slumber when the door to the jail burst open and three men entered the office. Dwayne was so startled by their sudden appearance that the chair in which he was lounging, tipped back on two legs and with his feet propped up on the Sheriff's desk, crashed to the floor with him in it.
Caught up in dreams of glory and fame, Dwayne half-imagined that notorious outlaws were attacking his small town and this was going to be his chance to become famous. He scrambled to his feet, with both of his six-shooters drawn and a war cry that was half terror and half adrenaline, leaping from his throat. YAUWUGHHh hhhh.hhhhh
Staring back at him was the barrel of a Winchester rifle, inches from his face and the hand holding it, rock steady. Schultz followed the long, shiny length of the barrel to stare straight into the cold eyes of a man prepared to kill should be need arise. The sound of two Smith and Wesson pistols being cocked drew Dwayne's terrified gaze to the tall man standing in the doorway, silhouetted like a spectre of death by the noonday sun outside.
Tension-filled silence hung over the men caught in a moment where the slightest twitch could signal the start of a bloodbath. Dwayne couldn't see the face of the man at the doorway, but he could feel his cold regard and felt a nervous sweat break out on his forehead. He tightened his hold on the suddenly slippery guns and swallowed what felt like an entire egg sitting in his throat.
A soft shuffle of feet, the sound of someone righting their stance, broke the moment into a million pieces of potential and slowly the tall gunman lowered his pistols and barked, Got a prisoner we need you to hold for the night, boy.
It was only then that Schultz remembered that three men had entered the Jail, and his eyes flitted to the figure caught between the gunmen. Shorter than both of his captors, his lean frame dressed in fringed buckskin pants and a tattered hide coat, the man was obviously under guard, his hands bound tightly in front of him. He had long hair, bound at the nape of his neck in a ponytail, his face marred with a couple of bruises and scraps. A healing black eye and a split lip all bore testament to his reluctant imprisonment, but it was his eyes that captured Dwayne Schultz.
In his short career as a lawman, Dwayne had looked into the eyes of a stone-hard killer before; and he felt the same shiver run up his spine when he met the gaze of the man standing in front of him.
Max Steele shoved his prisoner forward a couple of steps, startling the still nervous deputy and snapped, Keys, boy! I ain't standing around all day, waitin' on you.
Responding automatically to the authority in the bounty hunter's voice, Schultz holstered his guns and scurried to find the keys to the cells at the back of the Jail. Pueblo del Rosa's Jail had three separate cells, each one a small, foul smelling, filth encrusted space barely big enough to walk three paces across.
The prisoner Rodrico was holding balked at the sight of the confined cell, setting his heels at having to enter such a hellhole. Schultz felt a momentary pang of guilt, since he had been told to clean out the cells weeks ago, but had not been able to bring himself to enter the disgusting interiors. The Sheriff himself had thrown out the three lice-invested mattresses, complaining that the pests were spreading to the rest of the jail, so each cell was bare.
Rodrico forcefully shoved his captive into the middle cell, and roughly slammed his back against the mouldy wall. The Spaniard quickly cut the ropes binding the prisoner's hands and snapped on a pair of iron manacles that Steele handed him. He threaded the short chain through a rusty ring in the wall before placing the manacle on the man's other hand.
Stepping back to look at his prisoner, Rodrico said near flawless English, We're gonna need the leg-irons too, Boss.
Without replying, Steele tossed the leg-irons he pulled from his saddlebag to Rodrico, who bent to place those restraints on their prisoner. The up-until-now motionless man reacted instantly, jerking up his knee to slam into the Spaniard's face, sending him scuttling backwards, clutching his bleeding nose.
Son of a Rodrico mumbled, fighting the sting of tears. Steele pulled his partner out of the cell and growled, Leave it. He ain't going nowhere 'cept for short walk to a long drop.
The tall Spaniard shot an angry look at his prisoner but followed his boss out of the Jail. Dwayne, too stunned to move, suddenly found himself alone with a dangerous criminal. He scuttled out onto the boardwalk and yelled after the retreating men, What the hell am I supposed to do with him?
Steele's voice echoed back, Watch him, idiot.
Idiot? Schultz muttered to himself, scowling at the insult. He turned to go back inside, but caught a glimpse of his prisoner and decided to watch from outside on the boardwalk. After all, he told himself, it was cooler outside.
Hank's errand boy had crept around the Jail until he stood below the only window in the cells. He pulled himself up until his face was pressed against the bars. He could barely see the prisoner, but he hissed anyway. Hey, mister!
There was movement in reply. Ya got a name?
A faint sound of chain knocking on iron ring clinked softly and a raspy voice sighed, Yeah, Vin Tanner.
+ + + + + + +
From behind his bar, Hank watched the newly arrived bounty hunters. Rodrico had only just sat down and was pouring himself a shot of whiskey from the bottle Steele had ordered. Hank leant forward surreptitiously and strained to hear the quiet-spoken conversation.
You get a reply?
Si. Senor Worthington will arrive at noon tomorrow.
Steele seemed to think for a moment. You tell him what Tanner's wanted for?
Rodrico studied his partner covertly for a moment and continued, He is not going to be pleased. Tanner is not fast.
Steele shrugged. We can't guarantee every bounty being a gunfighter. Worthington will have to take what he gets.
The Spaniard snorted, What about Larabee? Should we even bother telling him?
Downing another shot of whiskey, Max shook his head. Worthington ain't got the guts to face a real gunfighter like Larabee. He won't stick around if he hears there might be a friend or two looking for revenge. I don't wanna spook him and ruin this sweet deal we got going.
Nodding, Rodrico poured himself and Max another drink. Double the bounty is always a good thing, boss.
Smiling, Steele laughed, It sure is, it sure is.
+ + + + + + +
Sheriff Johnson rode into town and immediately noticed his deputy sleeping soundly in a chair on the porch of the Jail. Shaking his head in dismay, he dismounted and wrapped his reins around the hitching post.
Striding up onto the porch, he studied Dwayne. Young and cocksure were the only words that came to mind. Both of those only time and experience would cure, if the kid lived long enough, of course. Sheriff Elijah Johnson aimed to see his deputy take over as Sheriff and if that meant scaring some sense into the kid, so be it.
He upended the chair Dwayne was sleeping in and for the second time that day, the kid crashed to the floor. Looking up at the Sheriff from his prone position, Dwayne stammered, Sheriff! You're back early.
Frowning fiercely, Sheriff Johnson growled, Schultz, if you gonna sleep on the job, maybe ya better become a cowboy or something, cos' ya ain't gonna survive long at sheriffing at this rate.
Sorry, Sheriff, I
Overriding the usual excuses, Sheriff Johnson said, Strangers in town?
Nodding, eager to prove he had been on top of things despite being caught napping, Dwayne yammered quickly, Sure are, Sheriff. A couple of bounty hunters and their prisoner.
Sheriff Johnson looked up sharply at that news and if anything his scowl deepened. A prisoner?
Unaware and oblivious to the brewing storm, Schultz nodded.
You mean to tell me that some poor sod is sitting in one of those cells? Those cells that I've been telling you to clean for months!
Schultz's face fell and he gulped nervously, Yeah.
Get up! Sheriff Johnson yanked his bright red deputy up and shoved him towards the Jail. He followed his man in and felt his temper rise a few notches.
Damn it, Dwayne! I despair of you ever becoming a decent human being. No one deserves to stand in that filth. Sheriff Johnson grabbed the bucket and brush his wife had left for just such a purpose and tossed them at his shame-faced deputy. I'd thought you would have had the sense to clean one of the cells so that we could move him into it later, but instead ya fell asleep.
Sorry, Sheriff Johnson.
I ain't the one you should be apologising to. Get cleaning now.
Dwayne hurried towards the door, desperate to repair the Sheriff's opinion of him. Johnson shouted after the kid, See if you can find Jeremiah tell him there's a bit for him if he helps.
A distant, Yes, Sheriff Johnson! could be heard.
Elijah Johnson sighed deeply and sat down in his chair, trying to keep his temper under control. The 'prisoner' had been left tied up, without access to a bucket or even fresh air. Elijah was mad mad at Dwayne for being lazy and stupid. And mad at the bounty hunters who had left their prisoner in such a state. Glancing up at his charge, Elijah noted the blood and bruises and felt his tenuous grip on his temper slip a little. Hellfire, spending five minutes in that cell would infect a healthy person and here was a man who needed a doctor and instead he was standing in accumulated layers of filth.
Dwayne rushed past him with a full bucket of water and went straight to work on the cell on the right. Sheriff Johnson felt himself calm down a little when he saw the gusto at which Schultz attacked the dirt. A shy presence at the doorway drew Elijah's attention. Jeremiah, the young boy who lived and worked at the saloon hovered just outside the door.
Smiling gently, Johnson said, Jeremiah, be a good lad and run over to Doc Brown and tell him there's a prisoner that needs tending to.
The boy's nod was brief and he disappeared like a flash. Surprisingly enough, Dwayne followed soon after him, fetching more water. Get some soap from Mrs Cook too!
By the time Doc Brown and Jeremiah returned, Dwayne had cleaned most of the cell. At the Sheriff's nod, the young boy ran to fetch clean water for the now grimy deputy.
Schultz, on his knees in the cell, was busy scrubbing for all he was worth, and suddenly felt his skin crawl. He knew the prisoner next to him was staring and he felt embarrassed and shamed by appearing so 'undignified' before a criminal. Dwayne comforted himself on the fact that the Sheriff still maintained the good name of the law in Pueblo del Rosa, even if he had let them down. Determined to make Elijah Johnson proud, he bent to his task with a will.
A few minutes later and Sheriff Johnson was ready to call the cell clean enough, but rather than stop, Dwayne continued right past clean, extra clean and into spotless. The stone floor and wall glistened damply, the sturdy bunk was revealed as a soft yellow wood and even the corners of the cell were free of dirt and grime.
Standing up, Dwayne looked like a chimney sweep, his face and hands covered in grim and his clothes in desperate need of a launder. But the satisfied smile on his face brought one to Sheriff Johnson too.
Well done, Dwayne. You did good.
Schultz's beaming smile made Doc Brown laugh. Don't think I've ever seen a body so happy to be so filthy! Get cleaned up son, I'll help the Sheriff.
Deputy Dwayne nodded, feeling a little bit of his pride restored and he left a happy man.
Doesn't take much to please him, huh? Doc laughed.
+ + + + + + +
Deputy Dwayne Schultz lay up to his neck in warm, soapy water, dozing slightly. His world was righting itself. His efforts seemed to have calmed the Sheriff down and perhaps Johnson would forget about the whole sleeping on duty episode.
Dwayne sighed, content. The events of the day played over his mind. He remembered the delicious apple pie he had eaten at lunch, the momentary fear of finding strangers in the jail and then blood pouring down the Spaniard's face when the prisoner had kneed him .
His eyes opened with a snap and he sat bolt upright in the tub, sending a wave of water over the edge. He had forgotten to tell Sheriff Johnson that the prisoner was dangerous! He was up and out of the water so fast that he tripped over the edge of the tub and landed with the thump on the floor. Scrambling to pull on his pants, fighting the suddenly difficult leggings, Dwayne raced out the bathhouse.
His arrival at the Jail was announced by a thud as he stubbed his toe on front steps and crashed into the door. He came face to face with Sheriff Johnson's shotgun and stopped. Instantly Elijah lowered his gun and said, Trouble?
Momentarily confused, Dwayne shook his head, Nope. Ahhh . Feeling a little foolish, especially considering that the Doc was calmly tending to the prisoner, who was already resting in the clean cell.
Frowning, Johnson growled, You eager to start on the other cells?
His eyes wide, Schultz whispered softly, I came to tell you about the prisoner. He kneed one of the bounty hunters when they tried to put manacles on his feet. Just about broke the fella's nose. He' can't be trusted!
Elijah Johnson shook his head slowly. Not five minutes ago he had seen Doc Brown tend to the last of the prisoner's many injuries, injuries that had made his blood boil again. He replied equally as softly, I reckon he had plenty reason to try get a little of his own back. Don't you worry, he hasn't given any sign of being difficult. And if he makes those slimy bounty hunters' job difficult, I say good for him.
Schultz was a little taken aback. The Sheriff had never spoken like this about a wanted man before. His usual opinion of all lawless men was one of disdain and anger. Heaven help the idiot who tried to commit a crime in Elijah Johnson's town. Nodding as if he understood, Dwayne decided to stick around anyway and he slouched in the corner, idly drying his hair with his clean shirt.
Doc Brown, who had not paid much attention to the Deputy, continued to stitch the long gash on his patient's stomach. The cut was neither deep, nor serious and would have healed on it's own easily enough. But it would have left a terrible scar had he not stitched it closed.
His patient, a quiet, soft-spoken man had remained still and silent for the duration of the process. His left hand was manacled to the wall, while the right rested in plain view of both the Doc and the Sheriff. He watched Brown work, his gaze unwavering. Rather than be put off by this, Doc Brown found himself talking softly, explaining what he was doing.
Now this stitch here, a friend of mine back East taught it to me. He reckons it holds the skin better, makes the scar less obvious.
Doc Brown, his wild white hair moving in the small breeze from the window, bent to tie off the knot. The words were so soft that only he heard them. Appreciate it, Doc.
He smiled at the young man whose expression showed that appreciation. The Doc sighed to himself as he began to pack up. All of the man's injuries had been designed to make him uncomfortable and compliant. A cut there, a bruise here, a broken bone there and suddenly trying to make an escape became that much more difficult. Emmett Brown wondered how a man could so easily inflict such malicious damage on another, but the depravities of mankind that long since ceased to amaze him.
As if summoned by his thoughts, Max Steele and Rodrico walked into the Jail. Unerringly, Sheriff's Johnson's rifle swung round to cover them but neither man deigned to notice it. Rodrico's nose was bright red and swollen. Doc Brown judged that it wasn't broken, but it would be painful for a few days.
Steele glared at his reclining prisoner, who smirked at him and he snarled at the Sheriff, What in the hell do you think you're doing moving my prisoner?
Johnson stood, his outward expression cold. He replied evenly, He is in my custody and I'll do what I please in my own jail.
Snorting loudly, Max shook his hand in Tanner's direction, And why in the hell have you got a doctor tending to him? Tanner is going to be dead in a few days, a few bruises ain't going to matter!
The Sheriff took a step closer to Steele and shrugged, My Jail. And all prisoners get medical attention. They may not always act like human beings, but it don't change the fact that they are.
The now irate bounty hunter stepped right into Johnson's face and hissed, Murdering trash don't deserve the rope that hangs 'em. They're even too good for the bullet that punches through their thick skulls. And there is no way in hell that some two bit, hick town Sheriff is going to tell me what I can do with my prisoner!
Dwayne and Rodrico had both backed away, both for different reasons. Rodrico knew what Steele was like when in a temper and he looked like he was brewing one up. Dwayne had seen the Sheriff out stare and out smart far too many people to think he was going to stand for Steele's behaviour.
Elijah stared straight at Max, his gaze unafraid. He stepped forward, despite there being virtually no room between the men and calmly trod on Steele's right foot, pressing all of his weight onto the foot. Max grimaced slightly but refused to back down.
Still grinding the bounty hunter's foot beneath his, Johnson said pleasantly, I ain't got much time for no account bounty hunters and I got even less for you. Any kind of man who treats another man like an animal and then expects to still walk in public with his head held high is not the sort of garbage I want littering my streets. Your opinion is worth diddly squat here and unless you wanna join Tanner in a cell, I suggest you leave right now and only show your ugly mug at noon tomorrow. Got it?
Max Steele tried to out-stare the shorter Sheriff, but the growing pain and pressure on his foot proved too distracting. At least, that is what he told himself as he backed off. Ignoring the Sheriff, Max limped out of the Jail without a word, followed by an equally silent Rodrico.
Doc Brown whistled softly, Elijah, I'm not too sure that was wise. Steele don't look like the kinda fella who'd forgive and forget. He sure as hell ain't no friend of yours.
Nodding furiously, immensely impressed with Sheriff Johnson, Dwayne added his two cents, Hell, Sheriff, the things I've heard about Max Steele! I wouldn't want him to be on my bad side!
Still staring at the open door, Johnson shrugged, I figure Steele's only got one side and I don't give a rat's ass if he's pissed at me. Anger makes a man stupid and stupid will get you killed. Schultz drank all this in, the Sheriff rising higher and higher in his estimation.
Deputy Schultz, why don't you go finish your bath and I'll go back to Mrs Brown? We'll leave Mr Tanner in the Sheriff's capable hands.
At Johnson's nod, both men left the jail and Elijah felt the silence and emptiness settle around him. He always loved the late night hours and the special sort of quiet that fell over the world. He'd often keep long night watches even when there was no need to. The world made more sense at night and the troubles of the day fell into place and ordered themselves in his mind. It was fortunate that Mrs Johnson understood her husband's peculiar nocturnal habits and simply left dinner waiting if he failed to return in time.
But the night was still young and Sheriff Johnson was not alone in the jail. Turning, he replaced the shotgun he'd been carrying on the gun rack and settled himself at his desk. He checked to see if Tanner was sleeping and found himself staring straight at the wide-awake prisoner. The wounded man seemed comfortable, stretched out on the bunk, various bandages poking out here and there. Feeling a strange need to fill the silence, Elijah drawled softly, Previous Sheriff wasn't one for cleanliness. The man stunk to high heaven and this Jail weren't much better. Sorry you had to experience the last of it.
Tanner just nodded, his gaze still boring into Johnson. I ain't one to hold with mistreatment of creatures, even if that animal is a murdering piece of shit. You'll be treated fair so long as you behave. Got it?
Reckon I do.
Reaching into his desk drawer, Johnson pulled out his journal where he recorded the events of the day. You got a first name?
Looking up, Elijah asked, Vin? Just Vin not Vincent, or Vince or Alvin?
Alright, Just Vin. He began to carefully write the name 'Vin Tanner' in his journal. What you wanted for?
My good looks? Tanner's smile was sudden and impish. Johnson snorted, The State of Texas sure ain't after you because the ladies find you amusing. What'd you do?
Shrugging as if it were of no importance, Vin said, I made an assumption and it turned out to be wrong. Never got a chance to explain it all properly.
Elijah scratched his chin in thought. There was obviously a story here but he had heard plenty of wanted men try to explain away their crimes and he kinda liked Tanner anyway. So instead of pressing him and having to hear a beautifully spun lie and then loosing his good opinion of the man, Johnson made his own assumption and wrote 'Murder' next to Tanner's name. Not all criminals were the scum of the earth, some were extremely pleasant to know, right up until they shot you.
Putting his journal away, Sheriff Elijah Johnson said cheerfully, Got any particular requests for dinner? My wife makes a mean beef stew.
+ + + + + + +
Out on the boardwalk in front of the saloon, Steele and Rodrico stood watching the Jail. Max was fuming, his temper on a slow simmer.
Pulverising his cigar stub beneath his boot, Max growled, That damn Sheriff is gonna be trouble tomorrow. He's going to stick his nose weren't it ain't needed and then he's gonna get shot!
Rodrico hummed under his breath before saying softly, Killing a Sheriff is always risky. Texas Rangers tend to take a hard view on that. Perhaps it'd be better if I arranged a 'diversion' tomorrow so that he ain't even here, boss.
Nodding, Steele agreed, Do it. I noticed a ranch on the way in that looked ripe for a little diversion. Just don't get caught!
The Spaniard was already gone, his footsteps light over the earth as he formulated plans and tactics. Tomorrow was going to be interesting.
NoonDwayne Schultz, Deputy Extraordinare of Pueblo del Rosa, Texas was asleep on duty. Again. Ricardo used it to his benefit.
Dwayne awoke with a literal crash and in the split second of coherent thought that flashed through his mind, he thought, I gotta stop falling asleep in this chair! His next thoughts were incoherent and slightly muddled as his head connected solidly with the floor. The next thing poor Dwayne knew he was sitting in the filthy middle cell of the Jail and Rodrico was escorting Tanner at gunpoint out into the street.
Max Steele waited out in the empty street. The populace of Pueblo del Rosa was well used to impending gunfights. Their previous sheriff had done as little about maintaining law and order as he had about personal hygiene. With Sheriff Johnson out at the Morris Ranch, no one was going to stop the bounty hunters from doing whatever they pleased.
Jeremiah had managed to escape Hank's attention long enough to secrete himself in the livery which offered a terrific view of the main street. The noon stage had arrived not two minutes before and its single passenger was standing beside Steele.
Mark Worthington radiated excitement. He had spent most of the coach ride staring at the five notches on his gunbelt. They represented the five men he had killed. Five men who Steele had captured for him. And the sixth was walking towards him.
You are certain that no one in this little burg will try prevent the gunfight? he hissed in a soft, upper class English accent.
Steele nodded, Sheriff is out attending to an 'emergency' and the deputy has been taken care of.
Rodrico and Tanner had stopped about a dozen paces away and Max nodded at Worthington and walked over to join his partner. He stayed out of arms reach, ensuring that Vin could not make a play for his gun and said softly to the lanky Texan. Now you listen up, huckleberry and pay attention. That excited popinjay over there has just paid us double your bounty for the chance to draw on you. He fancies himself as a fast draw and is keen to make himself a reputation. So he's been killing men that don't matter, wanted men who no one will miss. And the law don't bother itself about murdering trash getting shot in a fair fight. Steele paused, sneering at Vin, A fair fight is more than they deserve.
Tanner simply stared at Steele, his expression neutral. Max continued softly, But I ain't in this business for justice. Cash is all the reward I need and I already got double your bounty. So here's the deal. We're going to give you this pistol. It's got two bullets in it. Do your best to out draw Worthington, but I'll admit he's pretty fast. If by some miracle you do kill him, you can walk away. He kills you and we'll make sure you get buried nice and proper in this dump's little cemetery. Fair enough?
Judging from Vin's expression he did not buy the deal for one second. Max shrugged, This is how it's going down, idiot. You got a chance here to die like a man and not some dog strung up in the street. Take it and don't be a fool. If you try and waste those two bullets on either Rodrico or me, I promise you this. We both are faster than Worthington and definitely faster than you, so just aim for the pompous ass behind us, ok?
Vin's nod was almost imperceptible and Rodrico carefully placed a worn gunbelt around Tanner's narrow hips. He hissed softly at the Texan. Don't try anything funny, or we won't aim to kill and you'll live just long enough to swing.
The bounty hunters backed away from Vin, who stood stock still until they flanked Worthington. The tall English gunfighter was practically vibrating with excitement and at Steele's nod he stepped forward.
Tanner ignored him and slowly drew out his gun and checked the chambers.
Before we start, I'd like to say a few words. Worthington's clipped voice rose into the air with the noonday heat, his eyes bright. I have a cousin who once lamented that he would have loved to have been born in America so that he could have been a man like Billy the Kid or Jesse James. He cursed the fate that made him an English Lord. I called him a fool. If a man would seek out a destiny, he must do so in all earnest and haste. I have heard men cry that they were born in the wrong century, but fortunately for me, I was merely born on the wrong continent. I have scorned my birthright and I am forging a new destiny for myself in this New World!
His little speech ended dramatically and he paused as if he expected applause. Vin simply replaced his gun after rechecking the chamber and stared at the ground as if it held the secrets of the world. Steele and Rodrico merely rolled their eyes. Undeterred by the Americans' reactions, having experienced similar already, Worthington whipped out his own guns. He flashed the smooth, black revolvers in the sun and cried, These are the finest revolvers ever made. Top of the range, cutting edge technology and more expensive than sin. You will not find a finer pair than this West of the Mississippi.
Mark Worthington fairly bounced, and he quipped, Are you familiar with the revolver, Mr Tanner?
Looking up, Vin drawled softly, Can't say I've had much use for them.
A pity then. I take it then you are a marksman. A sharpshooter. Steele's nod confirmed Vin's silence. While I had requested that Mr Steele locate a fast draw for me, I'll take what I can get. More's the pity for you, sir, that your skill lies in a less advantageous arena. Are you ready?
Tanner nodded and Worthington settled into what he considered his 'fighting' stance. Feet apart, hips wide, weight settled and hands lingering over his guns. Steele and Rodrico were not as obvious in their preparation but still moved slightly in readiness. Vin remained motionless.
From his vantage point in the livery, Jeremiah watched as the three gunfighters squared up to Tanner, and the young boy wondered if Tanner would try to kill either Steele or Rodrico. If the wanted man hated either bounty hunter enough to try take them with him, he might well try to do so, rather than waste a bullet on Worthington. Dead was still dead.
Languishing on the dirty floor of the jail cell, Dwayne sighed deeply and wished that he had cleaned out all three cells.
On the count of three, Mr Tanner.
A gust of wind stirred the dust on the main street but no one moved.
Worthington moved his hand towards his gun.
Three shots rang out in the street. The silence in the aftermath of that thunderous sound, lay heavy over the town. Steele stared in amazement at the spreading pool of blood on Worthington's chest. The English gunfighter fell to his knees, his hands dropping to the ground having never even touched his precious guns. He collapsed on the dusty street with a thud, joining Rodrico who lay staring up at the sky, a neat bullet hole in his forehead.
Stunned, Steele looked up to see Tanner standing in front of him. He realised that he was sitting on the ground, his legs numb beneath him. Tanner was a bright silhouette in his eyes and Max squinted against the sun behind Vin.
What ? the bounty hunter ignored the trickle of blood that ran from the corner of his mouth. What happened?
Tanner bent down and picked up Steele's pistol and said dryly, I said I never had much use for pistols. I never said I couldn't use 'em.
The world was swimming a little now, and Max struggled to make his brain work. But only two bullets
A brilliant smile broke across Vin's face and he said quietly, It pays to have a no good conman as a friend. Like a rabbit caught in a snake's gaze, Steele stared entranced at Vin's hands and saw a bullet appear and then disappear like magic.
You . You
Still smiling, Vin said cheerfully, You musta thought that I was as thick as two bricks to believe that you'd let me ride away from killing Worthington. If you got double my bounty from that idiot, what's to stop you from getting triple by toting my carcass back to Tascosa.
Steele finally looked down at his chest and saw the dark red pool of blood eating into his bright blue shirt. He finally managed to utter the sentence that he was desperate to say, But but Larabee . Larabee is the fast one ?
Vin stepped forward and bent down so that he was right in Steele's face. Don't believe everything you hear.
But Steele was gone, his face still incredulous even as his spirit fled.
A few short moments later, Jeremiah watched as Vin Tanner rode out of Pueblo del Rosa. The small boy held tightly onto the twin revolvers that Tanner had given him. The man's parting words still rung in his ears.
Let the kid out of the jail in a bit. And tell the Sheriff I appreciate everything he did. Oh and if a bunch of riled up gunhands arrive later today, tell the cowboy in black that he's too slow and that I'm heading home.
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