Comments: A missing scene from One Day Out West.
JD picked himself up off the jail house floor, still muttering inventive curses under his breath. Buck, of course, was already gone.
Ignoring the continuing laughter coming from the cells, Dunne righted his chair and sat back down at the desk. Needing something to do, he opened the top side drawer. Inside he found a stack of wanted posters, handbills and dodgers.
Pulling them out, JD began a methodical examination of each one, sorting them into stacks: robbers, rustlers, murderers, and petty criminals. A few he set aside so he could use the backs of the posters at a later time, the men described on the other side well known to be dead all ready.
He was almost to the bottom of the stack when he uncovered a relatively new poster. His eyes widened and he sucked in a sharp breath.
"What'd ya find," Lucas James asked him. "Jessie James' poster?" He chuckled and shook his head.
"Yes, why don't you tell us, Mr. Dunne, help relieve some of the pitiless boredom."
JD looked up at the two men, his mouth slightly open, hazel eyes wide with shock. Then he shook his head as if in response to some unspoken question he had asked himself and he folded up the poster he'd found, shoving it into his pocket as he popped up out of his chair.
He was rushing for the door when Standish called, "Mr. Dunne?" and "JD!" as the young sheriff rushed out, drawing the door closed behind him with a loud bang.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
JD had expected to find Buck at the saloon, but the ladies' man wasn't there. He stepped out onto the boardwalk, glancing almost frantically left, then right, catching sight of Josiah just as he stepped into Potter's store. He hurried over and entered as well, calling, "Josiah!"
The big man turned, frowning. "Trouble?" he asked worriedly.
"You know where Buck is?"
JD shook his head. "I was just there."
A knowing smile lifted the corners of the older man's mouth. "Upstairs?" he asked the young sheriff.
Dunne blushed furiously, but he spun on his heel and was out the door before Josiah could ask why he was so anxious to find Wilmington.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
JD hurried up the stairs in the saloon but stopped when he reached the top of the landing, unsure what to do next. He looked at the closed doors lining the hallway, his brow furrowing. Then he bellowed at the top of his lungs, "Buck! Hey, Buck!"
A few moments later one of the doors halfway down the corridor opened and the ladies' man leaned out into the hall, dressed only in his long johns which were unbuttoned. "JD?" he yelped. "What's the matter with ya, son?"
Dunne hurried down the hall, ignoring the other doors that opened slightly and then closed again as he passed. Buck stepped out into the hallway to join him, calling in a sing-song voice, "I'll be right back, darlin'." Then he rounded on Dunne. "What the hell do you think you're doin', kid?"
"I found something interesting"
"You found something interesting?" Buck interrupted him. "Well, I found somethin' interesting here, too, son. And I'm gonna go find some more." He turned to re-enter the room, but Dunne reached out and gabbed his arm to stop him.
When the ladies' man pivoted back around, the young sheriff slapped the folded poster against his chest.
"What's this?" Wilmington asked him, frowning.
"Just look at it," JD said hotly, trying to keep his voice down. His gaze darted around the hallway, hoping that no one was watching them.
Buck sighed heavily and rolled his eyes, but he took the poster and unfolded it. His eyes rounded and he peered up at JD, demanding, "Where'd you get this?"
"I found it in the desk over at the jail."
"Damn," Wilmington hissed, his hand coming up so he could stroke his mustache while he thought for a moment. "Anyone else know about this?"
Dunne shook his head.
"Downstairs," JD said, adding as an afterthought, "talkin' to Vin."
Wilmington sighed heavily. "All right, leave it to me."
"What're you going to do?"
"What am I gonna do?" Buck snapped, his voice rising. Then he paused and reined in his temper. "I'm I'm gonna talk to Chris."
"JD!" Buck snapped. "Just Go back to the jail. Make sure Conklin doesn't let Lucas out."
"JD, get back to the jail. Now," Buck growled.
Dunne looked like he wanted to argue, he looked angry, but he finally nodded and left, storming out of the saloon without a backward glance.
A few minutes later Wilmington, dressed once again, was on his way down the stairs. Larabee was still seated at a table near the back of the room. Buck made a stop at the bar, getting himself a beer which he carried over to Larabee's table. He sat down across from his friend. There was a full glass of whiskey sitting in front of the blond, and the ladies' man couldn't help but wonder why Chris was waiting to drink it.
"Chris," he said by way of a greeting. "We need to talk, stud."
Larabee looked up, his expression neutral, green eyes holding a distracted, almost far away expression. "So talk."
Wilmington scooted his chair a little closer to the table and glanced around the room to see who all was there, and if anyone was paying them any attention. The room wasn't exactly crowded, and no one seemed overly interested in the two men. "Think we might have us a problem," he said quietly.
Larabee's expression didn't change in the slightest. "You got something to say, Buck, just spit it out."
The ladies' man's gaze dropped to the tabletop and he cursed softly under his breath. Larabee wasn't going to like this; wasn't going to like having been made a fool of. And, suddenly, he wasn't sure he wanted to tell Chris about what the kid had found, but he didn't really have a choice and he knew it. Hell, there was no way in hell JD was going to be able to keep it under his hat for very long. Better that Chris hear it from him than a stranger.
Reaching into his shirt pocket, Buck pulled out the folded-up poster. He laid it on the tabletop and pushed it over to Larabee, who paused for a moment, then picked it up and opened it. The man's poker face expression didn't shift in the few seconds he stared at the wanted poster. Then he folded it up again and tucked it into his own shirt pocket.
Chris reached out, picked up his whiskey, and downed the drink in a single gulp. He sat the glass back on the table and stared across at the ladies' man, asking, "Who else knows?"
"Just you, me and JD," Buck said quietly, his gaze sweeping over the patrons again. He frowned, wondering why Larabee wasn't more upset. It wasn't like Chris to tolerate a deception. When the gunman didn't say anything more, he finally asked, "Well, what're we gonna do about this?"
"Nothin'." Chris glanced at the batwing doors, making it clear he was ready to leave.
"Nothin'?" Wilmington echoed, incredulous. "Chris, he's"
Buck frowned, his anger mounting. "You know? You mean you already knew?"
"Jesus, Chris," the ladies' man hissed, "that says murder."
Larabee blinked once. "He didn't do it."
"Said he didn't do it; said he was framed."
Buck snorted in disbelief. "And you believe him?"
Chris nodded again.
"Well, ain't sure I do, stud."
"Leave him alone, Buck," Larabee warned lowly, green eyes narrowing slightly.
The tone made Wilmington's brow knot. "Chris, he's"
"You heard me."
Flashing blue eyes met equally stormy green. "Yeah, I heard you, Chris. But that don't mean I got t' listen to you," he growled, starting to stand.
"Buck," Chris snapped, pushing to his feet. And for a moment Wilmington thought Larabee might just draw down on him, but then the blond said, "Get the others. Meet me at Nathan's clinic."
"Do it," he commanded in a tight bark, then turned and left without a backward glance.
Buck stood and watched the black-clad man leave, anger and friendship warring in his soul. He'd known Larabee for twelve years, had seen him through good times and bad, and he knew Chris was an exceptional judge of character. But he really wanted to believe the poster. And, unfortunately, he knew why.
He cursed under his breath and slapped his thigh hard. He'd been smarting ever since he'd first seen Tanner standing at Chris's shoulder like he belonged there. Standing in the place Buck had once filled in Larabee's life.
Buck's teeth ground together as he tried to decide what to do. He recognized that tone of Larabee's. If he didn't do what Chris wanted, he'd probably end up gut shot.
With another muttered curse he went to find JD and Josiah.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chris found Vin at the livery, going over his gear in preparation for leaving the following day. The tracker didn't bother to look up from his task when Larabee stepped into the building, just asked, "Lookin' fer me, Cowboy?"
"Buck and JD know," Larabee said softly.
"Damn," Tanner sighed, his chin coming up so he could meet Larabee's eyes from under the brim of his hat. "Guess I'll be leavin' sooner 'n I planned."
Larabee shook his head. "Tell them the truth, just like you told me."
Tanner snorted. "Won't stay alive long I go 'round tellin' folks 'm worth five hundred dollars."
"You can trust these men."
The hint of a smile curled the corners of the gunslinger's mouth. "Standish is in jail. What he don't know "
"Can't get me killed," the tracker finished, grinning slightly himself. Then he took a deep breath, breathing it out in a long, weary sigh. "Hell, why not."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Less than a half-hour later the six men were all crowded into Nathan's small clinic. JD and Buck stood close to the door, their shoulders almost touching a unified front. Nathan and Josiah sat at a small table in the middle of the room, both of them drinking coffee. Chris stood directly opposite Buck and JD, leaning against the far wall, his arms crossed over his chest. Vin stood just in front and to the right of the gunman, trusting Larabee to protect his back.
Josiah and Nathan exchanged glances, clearly confused by the sides that had suddenly developed amongst them.
"As much as I enjoy the company," Josiah said as lightly as possible, "I was supposed to be helping Mrs. Potter."
"Sorry, J'siah," Tanner said, pulling off his hat, his cheeks going a little red as he dipped his head slightly. "I'll make this quick so's ya c'n help the widow-woman." He took a deep breath, held it a moment, and then said, "Reckon I's wrong not tellin' y'all this sooner Told Chris; figgered I owed it t' him Reckon now I owe it t' the rest 'a ya, too."
Vin took a step closer to the center of the room where Nathan and Josiah sat, but he spoke to Buck and JD. "Y'all know I's a bounty hunter was, anyways, 'til I went after a man named Eli Joe. Murderin' sonuvabicth " He shook his head, muscles along his jaw jumping. "I's gettin' close, thought I'd found 'im dead but it turned out it weren't him. Was a farmer name of Jess Kincaid. Eli Joe had kilt him t' throw me off his trail done a damn good job of it, too. When I took Kincaid's body in, thinkin' it was Eli Joe's, the law in Tascosa reckoned I'd done it fer the bounty money an' charged me with murder. Well, like I told Larabee, seein' as how I's innocent, I hightailed it out 'a there so's I wouldn't get hung. Been huntin' fer Eli Joe ever since."
Silence met the confession, a decidedly long-winded speech for the usually taciturn tracker.
When no one spoke, Tanner added, "I done plenty 'a things I ain't proud of in m' life. But I ain't never killed a man in cold blood, less'n he's wanted fer murder or rape, or when I's ordered to in the Army. Wouldn't kill an innocent man like that there poster ya found says I did." That last was said directly to JD.
The young man thought for a moment, then he nodded. "I believe you, Vin."
Tanner nodded his thanks, his cheeks flushing again, telling both Josiah and Nathan that the young tracker had been telling them the truth.
"Ain't a man alive who don't have his regrets, Vin," Josiah rumbled in his deep voice. "And Lord knows we've all made our mistakes You say you're innocent, I believe you, son."
"Me, too," Nathan agreed. "Don't reckon a man who'd commit murder just to collect a reward would risk his life to save a stranger and a negro one at that."
"Hell, Nathan, color of a man's skin don't mean a damn thing. What's in his heart's all that counts."
"Amen, brother," Josiah agreed, grinning slightly.
"Everybody satisfied?" Larabee asked, looking directly at Buck.
The ladies' man hesitated for a moment, but then he nodded. "Yep," he said. The tracker was telling the truth, he could see that as plain as the flush on the man's cheeks whenever anyone paid him a compliment. He didn't know what kind of life the younger man had led, but he had a feeling Tanner hadn't had much experience with the kind of friendship being offered here. And, for some reason he couldn't fathom, that made him feel sorry for the younger man.
They all watched as Chris pulled out the poster, unfolded it and showed it to the others. Then he walked over to Nathan's small woodstove, opened it and pushed the poster inside where it immediately began to curl up, burning into ash.
"What about Ezra?" Josiah asked Vin. "You plannin' to tell him, too?"
The tracker grinned as he replied. "Not 'til I have to, J'siah. Don't cotton t' wakin' up dead when he needs t' buy his way into a poker game."
The others chuckled.
"Ah hell," Tanner said and sighed, "guess he's got a right t' know too."
"Hold off on that, pard," Larabee said. "Jury's still out."
Vin thought for a moment, then nodded his agreement. He trusted the gunslinger more than he had ever trusted another human being, and he'd just met the man. The intensity of the bond they already shared, as natural as breathing, scared the daylights out of him, but he had accepted it like he had accepted everything else in his life, good and bad as just being the way of things.
Tanner glanced around the room, meeting the eyes of the four men there, and realizing that that trust was expanding to include each of them as well. He knew then, with absolute certainty, that he wouldn't be leaving Four Corners any time soon. And that there was one more lost sheep to be brought into the fold If they could get the gambler to agree.
He smiled. Hell, life surely was full of mysteries.
Author's Note: This story first appeared in the Mag 7 zine, Let's Ride #6, published by Neon RainBow Press, Cinda Gillilan and Jody Norman, editors. When we all decided to post the stories that have appeared in the issues of Let's Ride that are more than two years old, we opted to use a generic pen name because, while Kasey Tucker is the primary author of this story, she had so much help from the other folks writing for the press that it just made sense to consider the story to be written by the Neon RainBow Press Collective! Resistance was futile. So, thanks to the whole Neon Gang Sierra Chaves, Michelle Fortado, Patricia Grace, Erica Michaels, Nina Talbot, Kasey Tucker, and Lorin and Mary Fallon Zane. Story lasted edited 10-24-2005. Art by Shiloh (firstname.lastname@example.org)