Summary: The Seven are assigned to guard a shipment of gold on a train journey to Rattler's Creek.
Comments: This story was written as a round robin of double-drabbles (200 words for each part). The writers, comprising the Drabbling Vinburys, are: Carole, Jane, Jean, Rhiannon, Sherry, Susie and Xiola.
Disclaimer: The 'Magnificent Seven' characters are the property of MGM, Trilogy and the Mirisch Company. The characters are used here without permission BUT no profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
--Part One (Rhiannon)
Vin glanced around the stuffy storage wagon in disgust as the train moved out with a deafening whistle.
"Chris, remind me why we're stuck on this train," he growled, "for THREE WHOLE DAYS!"
"I told you. Judge Travis needs us to make sure the gold arrives safely in Rattler's Creek."
"We're getting an extra dollar a day," Nathan reminded Vin.
"I'm not complaining." Buck winked at JD. "Did you see how many lovely young ladies boarded this train?"
"Keep your hands to yourself, Buck," Chris ordered. "We have a job to do. The Judge got word that this shipment isn't as secret as the bank hoped. Anyone on the train could be planning to steal it."
"Might I suggest," Ezra interjected, "that it would be advantageous to indulge in a little theatrical dissembling. I myself, for example, would pass admirably as a traveling salesman of fine liqueur."
"Josiah and I could be wealthy ranch owners!" Buck suggested.
"With a little imagination and a change of clothing, perhaps. Mr. Tanner," Ezra eyed Vin's dusty buckskin jacket with disdain, "perhaps you would be best employed guarding the gold."
Vin glared. "Just what ya tryin'-"
"What about the rest of us?" JD interrupted.
--Part Two (Carole)
"Hey, what's wrong with my clothes?" Buck asked. "I haven't heard any complaints."
"Perhaps that's more due to the company you keep than the attire you wear," Ezra drawled.
"There ain't nothin' wrong with the company I keep," Buck protested. "In fact-"
"We'll need at least two of us guarding the gold at all times," Chris cut in. "Those not guarding the gold will circulate among the passengers."
"I'd be happy to engage in conversation with a few of our fellow riders," Ezra offered. "In addition, a well-played game of chance might prove to be a valuable tool in determining if anyone is harboring any ill intent."
Buck smirked. "An extra dollar a day not enough for you, Ez?"
"While I would most certainly not turn my back on any amount of money, Mr. Wilmington," the gambler said with a smile, revealing his gold tooth, "in this case, my intentions are purely-"
"Selfish," Buck finished.
"Honorable," Ezra contradicted.
Buck snorted in disbelief.
"Vin and I will take the first watch," Chris ordered. "The rest of you can spread out. Be careful," he added, "if there's someone on this train who knows about the gold, he may also know about us."
--Part Three (Sherry)
Ezra decided the best place for him to observe the train's most interesting passengers would be in the middle of a game of cards. It did not take him long to find what he was looking for and he settled in for the evening.
"Gentlemen, ante up." Ezra flashed a brilliant smile as he dealt the next hand.
"Don't see the point; the way you're winning I should just give you all my money." The man threw down his cards in disgust. "Deal me out."
"Well, it would seem that we are one player short." Standish was ready for a change and looked around the room for a likely adversary. One perhaps that would make this trip more interesting.
A shadow fell across the table. When Ezra looked up the first thing he saw was a pair of sparkling blue eyes that held just a touch of amusement. The gambler's keen senses recognized the signs of something more lurking behind that amusement.
"Well, hello to you, what can we do for you?" The man on his left asked the newcomer, impressed with the lovely sight before him.
The beautiful woman asked with a soft southern drawl, "Is this seat open?"
--Part Four (Susie)
JD entered a Second Class railcar, touching his hat politely to the heavily pregnant woman sitting with her husband by the connecting door. Strolling down the aisle, the sheriff made a mental inventory of the other passengers, careful to keep his scrutiny casual. Passing from the nearly-full compartment into the dining car, JD saw Buck lounging by the glass door that led to the train's sumptuous, 'Grand Salon.'
This luxurious railcar was reserved for the more affluent traveler, and the steward serving refreshments was obviously single-minded in his duty of keeping out any riffraff. The well-appointed carriage held twelve occupants, all of whom were dressed in expensively fashionable clothing.
As JD approached the tall peacekeeper, Buck stood straighter.
The ladies' man puffed out an exasperated breath. "Now, ain't that a waste of Heaven-sent loveliness?" he asked, nodding to the dark-haired beauty who sat at Ezra's card table in the 'Grand Salon.'
JD knew what had prompted his friend's comment, and as he watched the tableau being played out in the other railcar, he couldn't disguise his amusement.
"They can't all sniff out your animal maggotism, Buck!"
"What's he got that I ain't?" Wilmington huffed.
"Money, charm, fancy words..."
--Part Five (Jean)
"Chris." Vin came off the wall he'd been leaning against, tipping his chin toward the entry door.
Larabee stood up from the crate where he'd been sitting, turning to look where the Texan was looking.
Chris saw a couple weave drunkenly with their arms around each other, heading toward the baggage car where the two peacekeepers were on guard. Chris met them at the door, turning them back toward the connecting car, silently ushering them out.
"I don't like this." The blond shook his head as he watched the couple.
"You an' me both." Vin had already voiced his concerns about the set up.
It was very unusual to use a passenger train to transport this amount of gold. Rather than having a safe in a stock car that had one entry point at the side, this train was set up to allow entry from front and back.
Josiah and Nathan arrived shortly to take their turn at watch. Vin and Chris headed for the dining car.
Hearing laughter up ahead, they discovered Buck surrounded by several women.
'You can always depend on Buck." The gunslinger cast a grin in Vin's direction as they went to join their friend.
--Part Six (Xiola)
Chris had almost reached the spot where Buck was holding court when the sound of an irate voice halted his progress. He looked around to see a hulking man in a worn suit standing over Vin, jabbing at his friend's chest with a beefy finger.
"...and I'll tell you what I told that other feller that was just in here: I didn't pay good money to be sharing my space with Negroes and breeds. Trains got cattle cars for the likes of you."
Chris felt his temper flare, but the Texan merely stared up into the heavily-jowled face in icy silence, then turned to make his way back to the baggage car. Chris reached the troublemaker in four long strides, but the course of his intended retribution was derailed by the grip of a slim hand on his arm. The sharpshooter pulled him past the self-righteous behemoth and whispered in his ear through gritted teeth.
"Let it go, Chris. I bin treated worse- Nate too, I reckon. We ain't supposed to be callin' attention to ourselves." Blue eyes and a wry grin sparked under the slouch hat. "Long as you bring us coffee, I reckon we'll be just fine."
--Part Seven (Jane)
Nathan sat up straight. "There it is again!"
Josiah raised an eyebrow and turned lazily in Nathan's direction, not moving from his comfortable slouch on a rolled carpet. "Now, Brother Jackson, I thought we decided it was just a family of rats having their Sunday dinner."
Nathan ignored him and stood up, slowly making his way toward the side of the car, opposite from where the gold was hidden in boxes marked MANURE. In fact, the gold was packed in manure. Ezra's idea. "Last I checked, Josiah, rats didn't sing Clementine," he said softly.
"Faith and damnation! Now that would indeed be something special." Josiah returned to his meditative pondering of the ceiling. "We could-"
"Shh!" Nathan hissed, stepping gingerly over several pieces of matching luggage. Josiah shushed, turning with renewed interest as Nathan suddenly reached behind a large whiskey barrel and yanked up a grizzled old man wearing a threadbare Union coat and a moth-eaten derby.
"Okay, old man, what're you doing back here?"
"No need to shout, son," the man said, teetering drunkenly. "Just takin' my morning constitution... constitutional." He turned his attention to Josiah and his face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Henry! You've escaped!"
--Part Eight (Rhiannon)
Vin made his way through the Second Class railcars, carefully scanning the faces of the passengers as he went. He could hear Chris behind him and almost feel the gunfighter's black scowl as he tried to contain his rage at the ignorant stranger.
Crossing from one railcar to the next, Vin stood aside to allow a black-haired, mustachioed man to pass. The newcomer glanced across at him and their eyes met. A bolt of shocked recognition shot through Vin as he looked into a pair of ice-cold gray eyes; eyes he had thought never to see again, at least not in this lifetime. The contact lasted for only a moment, but it was enough for those eyes to widen in an expression of stunned disbelief that must have matched his own. Quickly, Vin pushed past the man and entered the next railcar.
The car was almost empty and Vin slid into an empty seat at the far end. Chris joined him, frowning.
"Vin? Something wrong?"
Vin could not hide the fact that the blood had drained from his face and that he was shaking from shock. He looked up and met Chris's concerned look.
"Chris, we have a big problem."
--Part Nine (Carole)
"Henry?" Nathan repeated, exchanging a confused look with Josiah, who just shrugged.
"Don't ya remember me, Henry? It's me, Walter. You an' me were-" The drunk broke off as the train shimmied slightly to the left. He lost his balance, and if it weren't for the quick responses of both Nathan and Josiah, he would have ended up on the floor.
"Easy, brother," Josiah said, maintaining his hold until the drunk had regained his footing. "Now, what are you doing back here?"
"I told ya, Henry," Walter answered, his tone more than a little peeved, "just havin' a little drink."
Nathan grimaced at the alcohol-laced breath wafting in his direction. "I think it was more than a little."
"Let's get you back to your seat," Josiah suggested. Resting his hand on Walter's shoulder, he gently but firmly guided him toward the door.
"Can't go out there," Walter said, trying to pull Josiah to a stop.
"Why not?" Nathan asked.
The inebriated man let out a high-pitched giggle. "Don't have a ticket."
Nathan sighed, rolling his eyes, then turned to Josiah. "You wanna take care
of getting him a seat, while I stay here?"
Josiah nodded his agreement. "Let's go, brother."
--Part Ten (Sherry)
"Vin, tell me what's wrong!" Chris was worried about his friend. "What kind of problem?"
Tanner took a deep breath before he answered, "I just saw a ghost."
"A ghost?" Chris ran his fingers through his short hair and sighed. "Tell me you don't believe in ghosts."
"What else do you call a man that's supposed to be dead and buried?" Vin hastily rose to his feet and began pacing. "The man I saw was very much alive, but he shouldn't be, because according to the sheriff in Texas that man is dead!"
"Vin, there must be an explanation and I promise you we'll find it." Chris laid his hand on Vin's shoulder. "Sit down and tell me about him."
"No, this is somethin' I need to take care of myself." He recognized the concern on the older man's face. "Look, maybe I overreacted, but if he's here and alive it must be because of the gold. Just trust me on this and give me time to find out what's going on."
Chris did not like it when Tanner got that stubborn look in his eyes, but for now he would let him do this his way. "Watch your back."
--Part Eleven (Susie)
As the pair stood up, Vin nodded in agreement to Chris' worried directive.
"Careful's m'middle name, cowboy!"
"I thought it was, 'I'm fine'!"
The tracker sniffed disdainfully. "That's m'other middle name! Chris, I need to sort this by m'self. Just don't let anyone sneak away that shipment while I's gone." A quirky half-smile pulled at the corners of Vin's mouth, as he attempted to reassure the gunslinger.
Leaving Chris to check on Nathan and Josiah in the baggage car, Vin did an about turn and retraced his steps. Despite his light-hearted comments to his friend, the tracker felt decidedly uneasy about this new, unforeseen development. An icy chill had settled in his gut when his eyes had locked fleetingly with the man from his past; more so because that frigid gaze had been as ruthlessly heartless as Vin remembered. But, if the wily outlaw was here - miraculously alive, and not dead, as the Texan had believed - then he must be up to no good. Was he after the gold? And was he working alone?
"Well, there's only one way t'find out what he's a'doin', an' that's to ask 'im," Tanner muttered to himself, as he re-entered the adjoining railcar.
--Part Twelve (Jean)
Vin continued his search for the ghost from his past. After entering yet another car, out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of the dusty gray coat disappearing through the other end of the railcar.
Sighting his prey, the Texan had started forward when he felt someone brush up against him. Reaching for his mare's leg, he turned in time to see the back of Ezra's fancy green coat.
Vin stood for a moment, caught between his desire to find the outlaw and his friend's obvious request for backup.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra had exited the card game, making his way toward the dining car in the company of the blue-eyed woman who had joined him earlier.
The Southerner was curious about the lady, for more reasons than just her southern origins. He was a man who prided himself on detail and she had dropped her accent on at least three separate occasions in the last few hours, a detail that he'd not missed.
Considering their current assignment, he thought it prudent not to isolate himself from the rest of the men.
Spying Mr. Tanner, he intentionally bumped into him, hoping to call the young peacekeeper's attention to him unobtrusively.
--Part Thirteen (Xiola)
Ezra sensed that his friend was preoccupied, and didn't miss the hesitation that shadowed Vin's face before he fell into step behind them.
Perhaps he was overreacting, Ezra mused, as he proceeded through the cars with the dark-haired belle at his side, but if there was one thing upon which he prided himself, it was his ability to read people. This young lady was definitely a `head-turner'. Not that this was suspicious in and of itself, for `flamboyance' was a personality trait for which Ezra had a great deal of respect and affection. He had turned it to his own advantage on many occasions throughout the course of his life, but this meant he was more immune than most to its charms. Gradually, however, the realization dawned that all eyes were not at that moment upon him and the graceful enchantress on his arm.
He turned then and saw that a large, shoddily-dressed individual had halted Mr. Tanner's progress along the aisle. Ezra was only barely able to catch the words "I thought I told you-" before he saw a meaty fist connect with the tracker's jaw, and heard the hollow `thwack' of bone on wood as Vin went sprawling.
--Part Fourteen (Jane)
"Excuse me, ma'am," JD said, blushing and tipping his hat for the third time as he brushed past the pregnant woman to head for the privy. What was it about riding in trains that made him have to pee all the time?
Exiting the car, he almost knocked over a tall, black-haired man with a thick mustache. For a split second, JD thought it was Buck, but Buck would've never grabbed his hair and jacket and slammed him so hard against the doorframe that his teeth rattled.
"You watch it, boy," the man said, his steel-gray eyes piercing him like a knife. A long, rough-looking scar ran from the man's brow to behind his left ear, and a rolled bullwhip protruded threateningly from his coat pocket.
Swallowing hard, JD muttered, "Sorry," and twisted away the second the man's grip loosened. He hastened to the privy and stayed even after his business was done, allowing the rumbling of the train and brisk wind through the privy's hole to calm him down.
Moments later, he made his way back toward the baggage car to join Buck in their turn to watch the gold. He couldn't wait to tell him about Scarface.
--Part Fifteen (Rhiannon)
Chris entered the baggage car and raised an eyebrow. "What's that smell?"
Nathan stood up, stretching stiff limbs. "Long story-"
The car door burst open and JD flew in. "You'll never guess-" He skidded to a halt, wrinkling his nose. "What's that smell?"
Nathan sighed. "That would be Josiah's new stowaway friend, Walter. Josiah's taken him to find a seat."
"Genuine?" Chris asked skeptically.
Nathan shrugged. "Genuine drunk; beyond that, I can't say. Josiah has his eye on him. Walter thinks he's found his long lost friend!"
"What's on your mind, JD?" Chris asked. The youngster was obviously bursting to speak.
"I met this strange guy acting suspicious. Real mean looking with this big scar across his face. I'll bet he's got his eye on the gold!"
Chris frowned. "Black hair, mustache?"
"That's him! You seen him too?"
"Vin recognized him - someone he thought was long dead. He could be trouble. Vin's checking him out."
"On his own?" Nathan asked.
"Vin can take care of himself."
JD glanced around. "Hey, where's Buck?" he yelped indignantly. "He's supposed to take guard duty with me."
"Three guesses!" Chris grinned. "You two stay here; I'll go and get Buck. Keep your eyes peeled."
--Part Sixteen (Carole)
"I'd advise you to move away from my compatriot," Ezra warned.
"I didn't do nothin' wrong," the man objected. "Just makin' sure that kind ain't riding in my car."
"I believe the man in question holds a ticket for this train, therefore-"
"Ain't sharin' a train with the likes of him," the heavy-set man interrupted.
"And no dandy's gonna tell me otherwise," he continued, moving closer in a threatening manner.
"Hold it!" Chris yelled, barreling down the aisle with Josiah beside him, their guns aimed and ready. From the other side Buck appeared, his gun out, and under Chris's watchful eye, the two men quickly subdued Vin's assailant.
"Josiah, Buck, get him out of here," Chris instructed, holstering his weapon.
Ezra dropped to his knees beside the supine tracker. Pulling out his handkerchief, he used it to stem the blood flowing from Vin's head.
"How's he doing?" Chris asked, joining Ezra at Vin's side.
"I believe Mr. Tanner is in need of Mr. Jackson's ministrations."
"I'm fine," Vin protested, grimacing and trying to push Ezra's hand away.
"Yep, you look fine," Chris retorted, shaking his head, "but I think we'll have Nathan take a look at you anyway."
--Part Seventeen (Sherry)
Chris did not want to take any chances. "Ezra, go change places with Nathan and send him up here."
"No," Vin protested. "Just help me to my feet and I'll make it back there on my own."
"Mr. Tanner, perhaps it would be best-"
The tracker was having none of it. "No! I ain't no piece of meat to be put on display. Now either help me up or move out of my way!"
"We might as well help him; he's too stubborn for his own good." Chris was aware of the crowd of onlookers and grudgingly agreed with the injured Texan about the unwanted attention.
"Every one of you, go back to whatever you were doing, show's over." Chris shooed them away and then turned his attention back to Tanner.
Kneeling beside Vin, Chris noticed the fine sheen of perspiration that covered the Texan's face. "We're gonna do this nice and slow, but you let me and Ezra do all the work."
Together Larabee and Standish got the tracker to his feet and assisted him back to the baggage car. Neither man noticed the tall, scarred, dark-haired man with the evil grin who was hanging back in the shadows.
--Part Eighteen (Susie)
"I do what I like, an' go where I please on this train. You got no right treatin' me like this!"
Brad Jenson, Vin's attacker, was incensed about being unceremoniously hauled through the railcars by Buck and Josiah, and was loudly vocal about the 'unjustified' treatment of his person.
"And you had no right to beat our friend," Sanchez responded calmly, his soft tone inconsistent with the vice-like grip he had on the burly troublemaker's arm.
"A filthy breed ain't fit t'mix with God-fearin' folk-"
Jenson's words ended in a strangled squawk, as Josiah halted their progress and clamped a large hand around the protagonist's throat. "It's a waste debating the finer points of our Lord's benevolent ways with scum like you,
The ex-preacher's threat was left unfinished, as the train suddenly gave an almighty lurch. The spine-tingling sound of metal on metal set Josiah's teeth on edge, but neither he nor the other two men standing with him could save themselves as the train screeched to a dead stop.
Momentum, as the iron beast went from top speed to stationary, catapulted Josiah, Buck and Jenson forwards and downwards, wedging them in the narrow aisle with almost bone-crushing force.
--Part Nineteen (Jean)
Chris and Ezra had just entered the baggage car with Vin between them, when everything went crazy.
Ezra found himself unexpectedly sandwiched between the black-clad
gunslinger from the front and the injured tracker against his back. With the sudden stop, the trio went down in a tangle of limbs.
Nathan struggled up, using the wall to support himself as he got his feet back under him.
"Everyone okay?" Chris rolled away from Vin and Ezra as he asked the question. Coming to his feet, he saw Dunne stir and slowly sit up.
"Dang... what the heck happened?" JD asked as he stood.
"The train came to a sudden stop." Even as he spoke, Ezra looked at Chris in dawning suspicion. In one fluid motion, the two men drew their guns and faced the door.
"I'm fine." Vin waved Nathan away as he gained his feet. A sudden urgent nausea took him back down to the floor again.
"Yeah... sure ya are." The healer huffed a frustrated breath.
"Tanner, let Nathan take a look at your head." Chris spared a glance at his injured friend. "I got a feeling we may-"
A scraping sound outside the door drew all their attention.
--Part Twenty (Xiola)
As Chris put a finger to his lips and motioned toward the door, Vin took the opportunity while no one was looking to roll to his side and vomit quietly amongst the trunks and carpetbags.
Even with his focus directed elsewhere, Vin noticed that Chris and Ezra had their weapons trained on the car's entryway, and he scrabbled for his mare's leg as another bout of nausea clawed through him. His vision blurred suddenly and he ran a hand over his face, willing himself to remain conscious.
"Spread out!" Chris hissed over his shoulder as he went down on one knee.
Ezra moved to the right of the railcar as JD and Nathan secreted themselves further back behind the crates and baggage. The heavy door creaked open on rusty hinges to reveal a white-faced young man in a state of obvious panic.
"Which one of you is the healer?"
Chris stood then, gun still pointed at the hapless stranger. "What's going on? Why've we stopped?"
"I d-don't know," the man stammered. "I was already on my way back here when all hell broke loose. That big gray-haired fellow said you could help me! My wife's gone into labor!"
--Part Twenty-One (Jane)
"It's... I... Well, you see, ma'am..." Buck tried every way he could think of to help Mrs. Dimitri into a more comfortable position, but he couldn't seem to take hold of her any place that wasn't, well, personal. Truth be known, pregnant ladies made him a might skittish. "Josiah, some help here, please?"
"I'm a bit preoccupied myself at the moment, Brother Buck," came Josiah's strained voice from behind him.
Damn. Buck had already forgotten. After the abrupt stop and their more abrupt freefall into the aisle, Josiah's large frame had become wedged so tightly that he couldn't budge two inches either way. The belligerent Jenson had taken the opportunity to sucker punch Josiah in the nose and disappear through the door toward the front of the train. The only help Josiah had been able to offer was sending the distraught Dimitri to find Nathan.
Mrs. Dimitri pinched Buck's arm in a tight grip and cried out again.
Buck winced. "Come now, darlin', the pain can't be all that bad, now can-" A well-placed slap gave him the answer. Buck sighed in helpless frustration.
"Perhaps I can help," offered a sultry female voice with a southern accent. "I'm a doctor."
--Part Twenty-Two (Rhiannon)
Chris took control.
"Nathan, go and help Mr...."
"Dimitri," the young man supplied. "Call me Alex."
"...Alex and his wife. Send Buck and Josiah back here."
Nathan nodded and glanced at Vin. "Stay put. Don't argue - think I missed you throwing up just now?"
Ignoring the venomous look Vin threw him, Nathan grabbed his medical bag and hurried out, almost colliding with an agitated guard.
"Did one of you pull the emergency cord?"
Chris shook his head.
Chris frowned. Could this be the first step in a plan to steal the gold? "Where are we?"
"Middle of nowhere; ten miles from Valley Ford."
"We need to know who pulled that cord. JD, stay here with Vin. Ezra and I'll check this out."
Vin pushed himself shakily to his feet. "I'm comin' with ya."
"No, you're not."
"Whoever stopped the train could be waiting for outside help. You need me, Chris."
Chris studied his friend worriedly. Vin was swaying, face pale and sweat-sheened. As he reached for his gun he winced, face contorting with pain.
"Bruised m'shoulder. It's nothing."
"Are you up to this?" Chris asked quietly, green eyes fixed on blue.
Vin held his gaze. "Let's go."
--Part Twenty-Three (Carole)
"JD, keep your eyes on the gold," Chris directed, heading for the door. "Ezra, Vin-"
"Chris," Vin interrupted, "stoppin' the train might be a ploy t' get more of us into the open."
Nodding thoughtfully, Larabee surveyed the baggage car. With two doors, one on either end, it would be too easy for a lone guard to be overwhelmed. "Change in plans," he said. "Ezra, stay with JD. Vin and I'll go see what's happening."
"Mr. Larabee," Ezra sputtered. "I believe I would be of more assistance-"
Chris shook his head. "I want both of you in here."
Ezra wrinkled his nose in distaste. "It seems to me that the odor in this compartment alone would serve to dispatch any miscreants who would have the misfortune of entering."
"You're staying," Chris ordered, in a tone that brooked no further argument. "As soon as we know what's going on, one of us will come back. Until then," he added, "don't let anyone else into this car."
"We won't," JD promised somberly.
Leaving the disgruntled gambler behind with JD, Chris headed into the next compartment, torn between moving quickly and slowing his pace to accommodate the injured man following closely behind him.
--Part Twenty-Four (Sherry)
Ezra pulled out his handkerchief and put it over his nose, mumbling something about a waste of God given talents.
"Relax, Ezra, a little smell ain't gonna kill ya." JD found the Southerner's actions amusing.
"Of course, I would not expect one such as you to appreciate the complexity of maintaining the persona of a dignified-"
"Shut up and listen, Ezra!"
"Exactly what are we listening for, Mr. Dunne?"
"That noise, it's comin' from over there, behind that trunk."
Ezra took a step back, never taking his eyes or his gun off the trunk in question. After a minute of quiet he sighed, convinced that JD was hearing things.
"I assure you sir, you... Oh, Good Lord!" Ezra jumped as a small gray mouse scurried across the floor.
JD dissolved in laughter and Ezra shot him with a look that said he would find retribution for this indignity.
"I strongly suggest that we stay alert and that you sir, should refrain from such juvenile behavior."
"Hey, the doors are locked and we have guns, no one is getting in here unless we let 'em."
Suddenly, they heard shouting coming from the next car, two gunshots were fired and then absolute silence.
--Part Twenty-Five (Susie)
Chris and Vin made their way forward, and were about to enter another railcar, when the young couple the gunslinger had encountered earlier suddenly approached them. The pair had acted drunkenly then, but they now appeared to be sober.
The man looked worried, and kept peering furtively around the car. "Excuse me, you're lawmen aren't you?" he asked the peacekeepers.
"Sorry, you're mistaken," Chris replied, his right hand creeping toward his gun.
"I know Judge Travis hired you men to protect a shipment on this train, but I'm concerned about this unscheduled stop," the man gabbled, keeping his voice low.
Glancing at Vin, and seeing suspicion etched in the tracker's eyes, Chris grabbed the stranger's arm. "Tell me who you are and your interest in all this," the gunslinger ordered briskly, pushing the man against the connecting door.
"I'm Gabriel Moran and this is my associate Sylvia Boyd. We're private investigators from Chicago, appointed by the bank to... oversee the safe arrival of the... goods."
The woman smiled when her partner introduced her, and then lowered her head coquettishly as Chris muttered 'sonofabitch!' under his breath.
"You've five seconds to prove that, otherwise I lock you both up," Larabee warned.
--Part Twenty-Six (Jean)
Chris swiped an open palm down his face after he handed back Moran and Boyd's credentials. If what he'd just read was to be believed, these two people were Pinkerton Agents. The gunslinger felt as if things were getting way beyond his control.
The blond took a step closer to the pair of agents just as two shots were fired somewhere behind him.
Vin jerked at the sound of gunshots coming from the car they'd just exited.
With gun drawn, Larabee turned into total chaos. He lost sight of Vin in the press of bodies that were trying to get off the train.
"Tanner!" Chris yelled as he fought through the crowd. He had no choice but to be trampled or follow the group off the train.
Vin had been swept along in the crowd until he felt the firm ground under his feet. Taking a moment to catch his breath, he moved between the railcars to wait for Chris.
Larabee was relieved to see Vin until he spotted the shadow of a gun barrel pressed up against the Texan's head.
Vin felt cold steel against his temple and then urgent words were whispered harshly in his ear.
--Part Twenty-Seven (Xiola)
"Well, if it isn't my old friend Mr. Tanner."
Vin turned slightly in an effort to see who was attempting to drive the barrel of a Navy Colt 44 through his already aching head, when a hand grabbed at his wrist and twisted his arm up behind his back. The voice rasped in his ear once more. "I know you recognized me, boy."
Vin bit his lip as his arm was wrenched roughly again. He saw Chris stiffen, and warned him away with a barely discernable shake of his head.
"Chester Lowry. Here I spent all these years thinkin' we was well rid 'a scum like you."
"Well, for me, seeing you again has made a good day absolutely perfect."
Vin shuddered when he felt Lowry's breath on his cheek.
"The boys made sure I didn't end up spending even a month in that hell-hole of a prison. Did a grand job of getting me out and convincing the world I was dead. You know why we are here today - me and the lads. They're collecting our baggage right now. And I don't know which is more exciting - getting my hands on all that gold, or getting my hands on you."
--Part Twenty-Eight (Jane)
"One, two, three, PUSH!"
Buck closed his eyes as Mrs. Dimitri squeezed his fingers until he was sure the bones would burst through his fingertips. "It's all right, ma'am. You an' your baby'll be just fine. Gotta be patient a bit longer."
Lordy, could things get any worse? Josiah was stuck tighter'n a belt buckle wedged on a headboard finial, the pregnant woman was in a world of pain, the lady gambler was claimin' to be a lady doctor...
"Again! One, two, three, PUSH!"
But worst of all was hearing those two unexplained gunshots. What was happening? Where were the others? Nathan shoulda been there already.
"Okay, we're almost there," the woman doctor said, smiling and swiping a strand of glistening chestnut hair out of her eyes. Under any other circumstances, Buck's discomfort would come from another source entirely.
"One, two, three, PUSH! Success. You're now free, Mr. Sanchez."
Josiah hefted himself up and gingerly tested the leg that had been wedged beneath the seat. "Ah, much better. Thank you, ma'am."
"I'm on it, Buck." Josiah tipped his hat to the women and limped down the aisle and out the door.
"Now," said the lady doctor, "about that baby..."
--Part Twenty-Nine (Rhiannon)
Josiah rushed off as fast as his cramping leg would allow and moments later saw Nathan hurrying towards him, Alex Dimitri close behind.
"Nathan! Who fired those shots?"
The healer's frustration was evident. "I don't know! I couldn't go back, Mrs. Dimitri-"
"Doesn't need you," Josiah finished. "There's another doctor on board. Alex, go to your wife. Nathan, let's go!"
The two men proceeded silently through the near-empty train, guns drawn and senses alert, until Nathan whispered, "Last Second Class coming up."
Josiah edged towards the car, peered cautiously through the window and withdrew his head quickly. "Four men, armed," he whispered. "One's heading for the baggage car. Another down - looks like the guard."
"Can we take them?"
"Maybe. Where are the others?"
"Not sure. I told Vin to stay put - he was in no state to be moving about. I'd guess Chris will have gone to check out the shots, so he's likely around somewhere."
Josiah risked another peek and turned back to Nathan, his expression grim. "You said Vin's back there with JD?"
"Then it must be his twin brother who just entered the car with a gun held to his head."
--Part Thirty (Carole)
Both men acted immediately, drawing their guns and taking up a defensive position on either side of the door that led to the next compartment.
"I don't hear anything," JD whispered after a long moment, his eyes darting back and forth between the gambler and the door. "What do you think we should do?"
"We do nothing," Ezra responded immediately. "Mr. Larabee's orders were quite clear. We are to remain in this car, guarding the gold, until one of our compatriots returns."
"But, what if they need our help?" JD protested.
"And if we were to open this door, only to find ourselves at the mercy of a group of would-be gold thieves?" Ezra countered.
JD sighed. "I know, but-"
"I am positive that Mr. Larabee has things well in hand," Ezra reassured the younger man, "and will be returning to effect our emancipation from this odiferous assignment at any moment."
JD ran his hand through his black hair in agitation. "Okay, but..." His words trailed off and he froze as he heard a noise coming from the other side of the door.
JD raised startled eyes to meet Ezra's questioning gaze. "Someone's trying to open the door."
--Part Thirty-One (Sherry)
Vin knew that if Lowry got him in that baggage car he would be a dead man and the gold would be gone. Do something Tanner!
"You are my ticket to that gold," Chester hissed as he roughly pushed Vin forward to the baggage car.
The Texan trusted that Chris was nearby and decided it was now or never. Suddenly he let himself sag and in that instant Larabee appeared, gun in hand, and fired. Chester Lowry was really dead this time.
Nathan and Josiah burst through the door at the other end of the car and quickly got the drop on the other would-be robbers. "Throw your guns down and put your hands in the air!"
"Vin, you can get up now. Vin? Tanner!" Chris dropped to his knees beside the downed tracker and found that he was unconscious. "Nathan!"
"Chris, I told this fool to stay put and now he's in worse shape than when he started."
"He said it was a bruised shoulder. Are you tellin' me it's more than that?"
"I'm sayin' he's in a bad way and I'm not sure what's wrong with him, but he may need more help than I can give him."
--Part Thirty-Two (Susie)
"What're you saying, Nathan?"
The healer's eyes captured Chris', and Jackson noted the worry, intermingled with... yes, fear was there too. "It's the head injury that's concernin' me, Chris. He needs proper medical-"
Jackson's explanation abruptly ended as the train, without warning, jerked and started to move forward. Caught unawares by the sudden movement, Nathan sprawled sideways from his position by the fallen tracker.
For Chris, to think was to act. Surging upright and straddling Tanner's ankles, he quickly drew his gun, covering the four bandits. "Josiah, tie these four up then go and find out what's happening with the engine. Nate, see to Vin."
Task complete, Sanchez headed for the door. Chris glanced out of the window, seeing the shocked faces of the disembarked passengers as the train rumbled past them. Knowing he could do little for those stranded, Larabee sidestepped the four firmly-bound prisoners to unlock the baggage car. Suddenly, a loud bang rang out, and as a body launched itself feet-first through the railcar's roof hatch, Josiah was shoved forcefully through the door he'd just exited.
"Move, and you're all dead!"
Gabriel Moran's order was backed up by twin pistols aimed at Josiah's back and Chris' head.
--Part Thirty-Three (Jean)
Chris was not afraid of death, had in fact welcomed it many times in the past, but today was not going to be his day to die. Making a split second decision, he took a step back and brought his gun across his waist, firing as he yelled Josiah's name.
Sanchez dropped, falling across Tanner's narrow body, the bullet from Moran's pistol ranging above his shoulder and burrowing into the wood of the railcar. Chris's first bullet hit its mark and Josiah's assailant fell as Moran's second shot missed Chris's head by a hair's breadth.
The Texan woke suddenly, instinct for survival foremost as he felt the press of bodies on and around him. A jerking roll to the side had him struggling to free himself.
"Whoa, now, Vin." Nathan made a grab for the younger man, steadying him as the tracker tilted to the left.
"Chris?" Vin tried to focus his blurring vision.
"Hey pard." The blond reached forward, placing his open palm across the younger man's shoulder. "Just settle down and let Nate-"
"It's a woman - she's dead!" Josiah called from the doorway.
Chris glanced over. "That's Moran's partner, Sylvia Boyd."
"If that's Boyd - where's Moran?"
--Part Thirty-Four (Xiola)
The peacekeepers exchanged glances.
"Chris fired, but I didn't see Moran go down," Nathan said grimly.
Vin felt Nathan's hand on his chest, pushing him back onto the hard floor of the railcar. Vin wasn't convinced that Chris's bullet had done its job. He propped himself on his elbows, searching for a glimpse of the would-be Pinkerton agent, and finally spotted him crouched between the seats three aisles back. He noted with a surge of panic that the man's gun was now trained on the unsuspecting Larabee's back. Vin's stomach and head were conspiring against him, his body now in the throes of full-fledged revolution, and he knew he had to act quickly. While Nathan's attention was directed elsewhere, Vin reached up under his friend's vest to the spot where his knives were kept. He deftly plucked one from its leather holster, struggled out of the medic's grip and, pushing himself to his feet, let the projectile fly. Vin saw the thief's eyes widen in surprise as he looked down at the deadly blade, which had suddenly taken up residence in his chest. Moran crumpled to the floor and Vin followed suit, aware only that Chris was safe for now.
--Part Thirty-Five (Jane)
For a moment, no one moved, no one spoke, no one breathed. The train continued on single-mindedly to its destination, oblivious to all the dramas unfolding within its belly. The rhythmic swaying and deep-throated rumbling provided stability in the aftermath of violence.
Chris sighed and relaxed. Slightly. His hand never wavered as he covered the doorway to the railcar. "Nate?" he asked without needing an explanation.
Nathan shook his head. "He's conscious, but ain't really with it. The boy needs to rest and let those addled brains of his settle back into place. Good thing there's a real doctor on board; he can take a look at Vin once that baby's done being born."
Josiah smiled unexpectedly. "I'm sure the doctor would be happy to oblige."
"Good." With Vin's health taken care of, Chris could concentrate on other matters. "Josiah, I want you to go and get the doc for Vin and have Buck head to the engine to find out why the hell the train started moving again. And we need to know why it stopped in the first place."
As Chris pondered what to do with the four dead bodies, he heard, in the distance, a baby crying.
--Part Thirty-Six (Rhiannon)
Buck used his bandanna to wipe the sweat from his brow and heaved a sigh of relief as the dark-haired southern beauty placed a small, wrinkled and wailing bundle into Mrs. Dimitri's waiting arms, announcing, "It's a girl!"
To Buck, the baby looked more like a wizened crab apple, but the Dimitris seemed delighted with it and he knew better than to voice his thoughts aloud.
The lady doctor smiled up at him and his heart flipped as he noted how her disheveled hair and the smudge of dirt on her cheek only enhanced her delicate features. He helped her up, unleashing the full force of the renowned Wilmington charm. "Ma'am, you are truly the most beautiful and talented lady I have ever-"
"Why, thank you, Mr. Wilmington," she interrupted, hastily disentangling her hand from his. "You've been a great help, you really have. But now that the train is moving again..."
Moving? The remainder of her words was lost as Buck's attention snapped back to the very real danger posed by the earlier gunshots and the train's unscheduled stop.
A moment later, he whirled and drew his gun at the sound of someone opening the railcar door.
--Part Thirty-Seven (Carole)
"Josiah." Quickly holstering his weapon, Buck approached the other man. "What the hell's goin' on? Why'd-"
Josiah raised one hand, cutting Buck off mid-sentence. "I'll fill you in, but first..." He turned to the lady doctor. "Ma'am, you're needed back by the baggage car."
Buck's face paled. "Vin?"
Josiah nodded. "I believe our brother will be fine, but Nathan wants the doctor to take a look at him." Glancing back at the woman, he asked, "If you wouldn't mind?"
"I'd be glad to." She immediately moved down the aisle toward the back of the train.
"Let's go," Josiah directed, clapping Buck on the shoulder before heading in the opposite direction.
"What about the gunshots I heard?"
"Well, it turns out the so-called Pinkerton Agents were really after the gold, along with Lowry and his men."
"Who?" Buck asked in confusion.
"The man with the scar," Josiah explained. "Those three are dead and the rest of them are tied up." He paused. "Now Chris wants us to find out who stopped the train."
As the two peacekeepers came to a halt, Josiah stared in disbelief at the transformed man in front of them.
--Part Thirty-Eight (Sherry)
Josiah could not believe that this was the 'drunk' he had met earlier. Not only was he sober, but he was no longer hunched over and he had cleaned up, looking almost..."Just who are you?"
"Mr. Sanchez, I apologize for the needed ruse earlier, my name is Walt Garrison. I am a U.S. Marshal, here to do my job and to assist you, should you require my help."
"I reckon that you can prove that." Buck was suspicious.
Garrison laughed. "Yes, Mr. Wilmington, I can." He showed them his badge and a letter from Orin Travis that vouched for him. "The Judge had another primary assignment for me; he had reason to believe that one of the most wanted con-artists this side of the Mississippi would be on board.
"Really. And we needed you, why?" Buck didn't like this at all.
"Rest easy, sir, the abilities of you and your fellow peacekeepers are not in doubt. I am not here to protect the gold, but to execute an arrest warrant."
Josiah had an uneasy feeling about this. "Marshal Garrison, who are you here to arrest?"
"The papers say Sam Montgomery, but the correct name is Samantha, your so-called lady doctor."
--Part Thirty-Nine (Susie)
Wind whistled through the body-littered railcar, a swirling, funneling effect caused by several bullet-smashed windows, plus the gaping roof hatch, holed after Moran's spectacular entrance. Surveying the wrecked compartment, Chris made a decision.
"This car's had it, Nathan. We'll move in with the baggage, until we reach the safety of Rattler's Creek."
Nathan nodded in silent agreement as he tended to the injured tracker. He'd found a blanket and, folding it into a rectangular bundle, attempted to put it behind Vin's head.
"Quit fussin', Nate," Tanner slurred, angrily batting away Nathan's hands.
"I'm protectin' yer head, Vin. An' don't be thinkin' I've forgotten 'bout your shoulder either."
"It's jis' bruised an' moves fine. See?" Vin retorted, gingerly lifting his left arm several inches.
"Yeah, that looks fine! It's as fine as your cracked head. An' I know you're strugglin' t'talk with that swollen jaw."
"I wouldn't be strugglin' if y'didn't keep makin' m'answer ya," Vin muttered in disgust, flinching again when Jackson dabbed at an oozing cut on his temple.
"Dammit, that hurts, Nathan!"
"Then you should'a ducked quicker!"
Chris listened to the pair's grumbling banter as he went to unlock the baggage car, smiling at the normality of it.
--Part Forty (Jean)
Ezra rolled his eyes, watching JD eagerly move toward the door.
"I wonder if this time someone will actually open it?" Standish sighed as he faced the entrance, motioning for Dunne to move aside.
"You boys alright?" Chris called out before pushing the door open. He waited until he saw both men move toward him and then turned back, intent on getting back to Vin.
JD was already firing questions at the blond's retreating back.
"Everybody okay? What happened, we heard shots, right, Ezra? Why'd the train stop?"
While the young man paused for breath, Ezra stepped in with his own questions.
"Mr. Larabee, might I inquire as to the most recent events that precipitated our emancipation?" The southerner stopped as they entered fully into the next car. Seeing Nathan hovering over Vin was concerning, as well as the bodies that had been moved to one side of the room, but what the blond said next sent chills down the gambler's spine.
"Don't get too comfortable." Chris paused as he hunkered down beside Vin. "We're going right back in there." Larabee smiled at the disgruntled look on Ezra's face. His black-clad head rocked down as Vin shifted and moaned loudly.
--Part Forty-One (Xiola)
The world was going crazy.
It was the only possible explanation Vin could come up with - either that or he was suffering from a nasty case of déjà vu. Hadn't he seen that beautiful face now floating above him somewhere before?
His vision cleared and he recognized Ezra's companion from earlier in the day. She looked different somehow. It must have had something to do with the gun - one of those prissy ones that Ezra favored - that and the hard look in her eyes. No, she was certainly no longer the captivating creature their conman had been squiring about the train. Her lips thinned in what he presumed was a smile as she pressed the gun tighter to his temple.
Vin was sick to death of playing hostage to this trainload of crooks. There was no way a woman with a fancy little pistol was going to get the better of him, especially as it seemed they had attracted a considerable audience. He made as if to stand and when she grabbed at his arm to speed his ascent, he caught her off balance and pulled her to the floor, twisting her wrist til the gun fell away.
--Part Forty-Two (Jane)
"Ain't bad enough we've got two Pinkertons gone bad, and a sadistic murderer with his own gang of ruffians out to get the gold -- Vin, too, if I heard ya right," Buck said, waving his hat around in disbelief, "but now you're telling me that that fine specimen of womanhood who just left is a con artist wanted by the law?"
Walt leaned back on his heels and proceeded to fill a small cob pipe he'd removed from his coat pocket. "Yep. That about sizes things up."
Josiah frowned. "Samantha was after the gold, too? Doesn't seem to fit somehow. How'd she plan to get the gold away from here?"
"Wasn't after the gold," Walt explained, lighting the pipe and sucking air through to encourage the flame. "No, poor Samantha finally met her match back in Houston -- ended up owing some very powerful people quite a sum of money. She got wind from her father in Eagle Bend that a feller worth $500 was gonna be on this train, and in desperation they--"
"Hell," said Buck, and he and Josiah wasted no time as they ran for the baggage car. But not before a single, disheartening shot rang out.
--Part Forty-Three (Rhiannon)
Chris had been surprised, yet relieved, when the dark-haired beauty appeared, announcing that she was a doctor sent by Josiah. He and JD had carried a weakly-protesting Tanner into the baggage car, laying him down on an improvised bed of blankets. Deciding to allow patient and doctor some privacy before moving the whole party in, they had returned to interrogate the prisoners.
Chris smiled grimly as he recalled the mens' palpable fear as he threatened dire punishment for anyone who lied. He was confident they had been truthful and that all gang members were accounted for. So why were the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end and all his instincts screaming that something was badly wrong?
+ + + + + + +
As Vin lunged for the gun, an explosion of pain in his injured shoulder blurred his vision and consciousness began to fade. He fought back the agony, getting a hand to the barrel as hers snaked around the butt. Vin was weakening fast and she hissed in triumph as she got the upper hand. Vin fought back desperately; his hand closed around hers, their combined grip released the trigger and the sound of a gunshot echoed around the railcar.
--Part Forty-Four (Carole)
"Chris?" JD asked, as the gunman quickly pivoted and headed toward the baggage car, gun in hand.
Trusting their leader's instincts, especially when it came to Vin, Nathan and JD fell in behind him, leaving Ezra to watch over their trussed up prisoners.
Making his way across to the next car, Chris slowly eased the door open. His eyes grew wide as he spotted the injured man and the lady doctor battling for
control of a small weapon.
Taking a step forward, he suddenly yelled, "Watch out!" and ducked as the gun discharged in his direction and a bullet whipped through the air.
A few steps behind, Nathan and JD heeded the warning, flinging themselves to either side of the door and out of harm's way.
"Right here," Chris called out, sparing Vin a quick glance before turning his attention back to the woman.
"Drop the gun and move away from him," he demanded, gesturing with his gun and leveling a glare of his own when she stared at him defiantly. "Now."
Releasing a huff of air, the woman gathered up her skirts and got to her feet, leaving the gun on the floor in the process.
--Part Forty-Five (Sherry)
"Vin, you okay?" Chris called over his shoulder as he kept his gun on the woman.
"No I ain't okay! Not since we got on this blasted train full of crazy people! Bad enough everyone and their grandma want the gold, now I got a woman trying to part my scalp with a baby gun." Vin grumbled and tried to sit up.
"Easy, Vin. Let me have a look." Nathan moved over to the tracker's side to examine his shoulder and to look for new injuries. "He don't appear to be any worse off, but I'll be glad to get him where he can be tended to properly."
"He is right here Nate, and can hear just fine!" Vin was tired of being treated like an inanimate object. "The only tending I need is to get off this train and back on my horse where it's safe."
Buck and Josiah burst through the door. They were relieved to see that Chris had things under control, but they also realized that Vin was still not safe. If the marshal knew that he was a wanted man he would arrest him on the spot.
"Chris, we need a plan...quick!"
--Part Forty-Six (Susie)
Ezra and Josiah escorted the handcuffed Samantha Montgomery through the railcars, alert for danger as they looked out for the woman's accomplice, her father, Brad Jenson. The pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place after Montgomery's tearful confession to the peacekeepers and, armed with this information, the Seven had quickly formulated a plan to lead Marshal Garrison away from Vin.
Spotting the grizzled lawman just ahead, Josiah called out, "Hey, Walt, we've caught your outlaw. She was impersonating a doctor, and tried to kill our injured friend."
"I wanted Tan-!"
The woman's protests ended abruptly as Ezra's derringer dug into her lower back. "It would be imprudent to speak again, madam," Standish murmured succinctly.
"You... wouldn't shoot a lady," she whispered shakily.
"I concur. You, on the other hand, are a different matter."
"I owe you boys for helping me out," Garrison said, frowning at the pallid-faced woman between the two men. "She hurt?"
"Not at all," replied Ezra smoothly. "However, we've discovered her father, a Brad Jenson, is also on this train. Mr. Larabee has offered you our services to capture the felon."
"Jenson's on the train?" Walt repeated excitedly. "I knew the old coot couldn't keep away!"
--Part Forty-Seven (Jean)
While Ezra and Josiah took their prisoner to the marshal, Chris positioned himself just inside the door, his gun held casually but firmly in his hand.
Buck made eye contact with the blond as he took the position across from his long time friend.
"I'll be happy to get off this train." Wilmington looked back at where Nathan and JD were sitting beside Vin.
"Another twelve hours and this is done!" Larabee's sigh was loud enough it echoed through the room.
"Amen to that." Nathan nodded his head in agreement.
"You think Ezra and Josiah will be able to keep the marshal distracted?" Buck shifted to lean against the side of the rail car.
The blond lifted his gun. "If they can't..." He left the sentence unfinished but his meaning was very clear.
Nathan cast a sharp look down at Vin, knowing that he too would do whatever it took to make sure that his friend remained safe.
Through a haze of pain and confusion, Vin lifted his head and looked at Chris.
Larabee moved to the injured man's side. "Rest easy, Vin, we got your back."
Tanner closed his eyes, giving into the relentless pull of a healing sleep.
--Part Forty-Eight (Xiola)
Chris was worried.
How could they protect Vin when Montgomery and Jenson knew who he was? It was only a matter of time before the marshal found out about Tanner, and when he did, it would be difficult to explain his status as a peacekeeper. Unless...
"Buck? Hand me that rope."
Buck disentangled the cord from its place on the wall and tossed it to Chris.
"Thanks. Vin?" Chris shook the Texan's shoulder gently. "Wake up, pard."
Vin moaned softly without opening his eyes. "Thought ya said I could git some sleep," he mumbled.
"There's a problem. You're going to have to play prisoner for a while."
Chris saw the look of surprise cross his friends' faces.
"I know we don't have Jenson yet, but we'll catch him. The big problem, though, is that we have no way to prevent Samantha and her father from spilling the beans about Vin to Garrrison. So I'm thinking we tell the marshal we didn't know anything about a bounty until now and that we've arrested Vin and plan on turning him in. This way, Vin's under our control til we all part company and we don't have to worry about Garrison getting suspicious."
--Part Forty-Nine (Jane)
The others nodded reluctantly, but before Chris could act on their new plan, Walt Garrison burst through the door, followed by a flustered Ezra.
"-- no need to bid the others a..." Ezra's voice trailed off and he sighed, adding a muttered, "fond farewell."
"Garrison." Chris nodded, anticipating any number of scenarios. "We were just--"
"Taking care of business, I know," Walt interrupted cheerfully. I just wanted to thank you all for the help, and wish you a safe journey ahead."
"'Preciate it," Chris said warily, sensing something else going on. "We all wish you the same."
"Thanks, I'll need it with that hellcat Montgomery." Walt glanced down at Vin and back to Chris. "Won't be boring, no sir, not with those tales she likes to spin."
"Yep, that's so."
Silence reigned as Chris Larabee and Walt Garrison eyed each other carefully. After a few long seconds, the two shook hands.
"Well, I better go relieve Sanchez of my cargo; don't worry about Jenson, I'm bettin' the coward's high-tailing it back to Houston." Garrison was almost out the door before he turned back and grinned. "Oh, and say 'hi' to my old friend Orin Travis for me."
--Part Fifty (Rhiannon)
Chris stared thoughtfully after the marshal.
"Think he's for real?" Buck joined the gunfighter in the doorway.
Chris nodded. He had recognised Garrison's sincerity in their silent exchange and had no doubt that the marshal posed no threat to Vin. "I'm worried about Jenson, though," he said. "I'd like to be sure he's left the train."
"Want me and JD to take a look around? You can stay here and keep an eye on Vin and the gold."
Chris cast a glance in the direction of the supine tracker and raised an eyebrow. "Which one do you reckon would give me the most trouble?"
Buck chuckled. "You really need me to answer that?"
Chris grinned. "Reckon not. As for Jenson, we'd best stick together until the train reaches Rattler's Creek. When Josiah gets back, I'm locking this car again."
Ezra looked over, an expression of horror on his face. "Mr. Larabee, surely you cannot mean to inflict upon us the torment of another eleven hours in this... this... purgatorial confinement!"
Ezra sighed exaggeratedly, pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face. "Well, in that case... which of you good gentlemen would like to engage in a game of chance?"
--Part Fifty-One (Carole)
"I'm in," JD announced, "it'll keep my mind off the smell in here."
"Kid's got a point," Buck agreed. "And we can play cards and watch the gold at the same time."
"It'll make the time go faster, too," JD added.
After a moment's consideration, and a quick check of the sleeping tracker, Chris and Nathan both nodded.
"Excellent." With a smile, Ezra pulled out his cards and shuffled the deck. "Might I suggest we use the aforementioned -"
"We're not using the gold to bet with," Chris said, rolling his eyes.
"Would make for some interesting wagers," Buck laughed.
"Hey," JD said, picking up his cards. "I was wondering... what's going to happen to those people who got off the train when we stopped awhile back?"
"I forgot all about them," Nathan admitted, a startled look on his face.
Chris shrugged. "I guess the next train will stop to pick them up."
"I hope so," Buck said, "otherwise they're gonna have a mighty long walk."
"You sure you shuffled these cards, Ezra?" JD complained, staring at the cards in his hand with disgust.
"I assure you-"
Five guns were drawn in unison as the compartment door began to open.
--Part Fifty-Two (Sherry)
Five men relaxed when Josiah appeared, arms laden with dishes of food. "With all the excitement I thought everyone might be hungry by now."
"Thanks, Josiah, I reckon we did forget to eat, but to be fair we were kinda busy." Buck smiled.
Movement from Tanner caught Nathan's attention. "Welcome back, you feeling better?"
"I told you 'm fine, just hungry."
JD chuckled. "Leave it to Vin to wake up when the food arrives."
"Hope you brought some soup for our injured friend." Nathan smirked. "'Cause you know Vin and his stomach, we can't chance him getting queasy."
The Texan growled. "I've been beat, had guns stuck in my face, took hostage, my head hurts, and my shoulder aches. Now you wanna tell me I can't eat real food, Nate? Don't think so!"
Ezra grinned. "Sounds a bit testy, doesn't he?"
"Feed him, Nathan, or he'll complain all the way to Rattler's Creek." Chris laughed as he locked the door. "Josiah, any sign of Jenson?"
"No, but Garrison's ready for him if he comes for Samantha and we're here if he tries for Vin or the gold."
Vin muttered, "I can't wait to see the backside of this train."
--Part Fifty-Three (Susie)
The long, strident whistle from the engine, and the fact that the train was slowing, told the peacekeepers they'd finally reached their destination. When the brakes engaged underneath, a collective sigh of relief whispered around the luggage car, as all were eager to finish their chore and return home.
"Yee-haw! We made it, boys!" Buck enthused excitedly and pummelled JD on the back, making the sheriff stagger slightly.
"This ain't over yet, Buck," Nathan warned, gesturing to the lo
ked door and the prisoners beyond.
"Aw, why spoil things for me, huh?"
Chris smiled mirthlessly at his friend's aggrieved remark, although he sympathised with Wilmington. The last few hours had passed without further incident, the peaceful lull allowing Chris time to consider what had happened during the journey. Clearly there had been a leak of information somewhere, but that was the concern of the sheriff at Rattler's Creek. The peacekeepers' job would be finished when they handed over the gold.
"Ezra, find the sheriff and tell him we need help with the shipment. At this point I'm not sure who to trust, so explain everything but let him deal with the bank," Chris ordered the southerner as he unlocked the door.
--Part Fifty-Four (Jean)
Vin waited until Nathan had left his side before struggling to his feet. He knew that he needed to get off the train so that the other men wouldn't have to cover for him with the sheriff. Vin felt there had been enough of that during the last few days.
"Whoa there," Chris stepped in front of his friend, "just where do you think you're headed?"
Vin opened his mouth to respond, closing it as soon as he saw the frown on Nathan's face as he joined the gunslinger.
"Vin, you ain't in any shape to go nowhere's nor do nothin'." Nathan rested his hands on his hips, fighting the urge to reach out and steady his injured friend.
"I 'preciate yer worry, Nate, Chris," he nodded at each man in turn, "but you know s'well as I do what'll happen should that Sheriff find me here."
Chris wanted to go with Vin, but his duty held him bound to the train until the money and the prisoners were handed off. Larabee looked around, catching Buck's eye.
"Buck, take Vin and head to the livery. We'll ride back to Four Corners."
Wilmington stepped up to the injured tracker. "Ready, pard?"
--Part Fifty-Five (Xiola)
Ezra sent the sheriff to the station to take charge of the prisoners and started down the boardwalk toward the saloon. A shot of something strong and smooth would be a most welcome pick-me-up, and as long as he made it quick, his companions would be none the wiser.
His progress was brought to an abrupt halt when he passed the window of the General Store and caught sight of the reflection staring back at him. Who was that ghastly apparition in those rumpled clothes? He was so horrified at his appearance he almost failed to notice a familiar shape mirrored in the panes before him. That unkempt person who had just disappeared into the livery across the street was none other than Brad Jenson!
It wasn't until he crossed the road and peered in at the stable door that he realized Vin and Buck were inside. Jenson's gun was oscillating between his friends and Ezra had only enough time to shout a warning as he shook his derringer out of his sleeve. Jenson turned toward the noise, but it was too late. Ezra's bullet caught him right between the eyes and he collapsed in a heap on the floor.
--Part Fifty-Six (Jane)
It was over. Well, almost.
The gold had been signed over to the sheriff, reports (and bodies) given to the circuit judge, all seven regulators had cleaned up and eaten a hearty meal, Vin was doing better after Nathan "encouraged" him to rest for a couple of hours and he'd agreed (with more encouragement) to wear a sling, and best of all, the train had departed, blessfully leaving them behind.
But Chris had one more little problem to take care of. That problem stood before him shining like a new penny.
"Ezra," he said.
"Mr. Larabee," Ezra answered, eyes narrowed.
"Hand it over."
"Excuse me?" Innocence radiated from every pore.
"The gold was short one brick," Chris answered. "The manure was your idea, a good one. But there's only one reason you'd offer to help pack the gold in it."
"My dear Mr. Lar--"
Ezra sighed and reached somewhere in his jacket, removing a gold bar. He dropped it heavily into Larabee's outstretched hand.
"Damn, Ezra, you been lugging that around all this time?" Buck and the others stood by, horses ready, comments flying.
Chris grinned; all was right in the world again. And they were going home.