Peace and Quiet
"CHRIS! MOVE!" Tanner yelled, grabbing his weapon off the top of the woodpile and shooting repeatedly at the unseen ambushers, not having the time to even unholster the sawed-off. Dust plumes kicked up as bullets flew, a ping sounded when one ricocheted off the handsaw's metal teeth. In his peripheral vision, Vin saw Larabee lunge for his holstered colt which hung on a porch nail then listened as the man's colt barked out a couple of rounds.
Vin kept shooting while backing towards Larabee's cabin. He heard Chris grunt as he crashed through the door, his friend's shots then echoing his own.
Tanner fell back through the entrance and scooted to one side as Chris slammed the door shut with a resounding bang. Splinters and wood chips flew as the wood structure was hammered with shot. The two men scrunched down as far as they could one on either side of the door.
"How bad?" Vin rasped, slamming bullets into the chamber to reload, his face a mask of concentration. He'd taken a quick glance at Larabee and saw blood on his hand but didn't know where the injury was.
"Flesh wound," came the reply as Chris flipped shut the refilled chamber. "You?" he quickly added, looking over at Tanner.
"Not a scratch." He knew he was fortunate in that.
Vin had taken stock when backing to the house. "Least two."
Another volley assaulted them, sending shards of glass everywhere and more chunks of wood.
"What the hell they shooting with?" Chris yelled as he and Vin lay nearly prone on the floor.
"Buffalo guns," Vin answered over the din as he ducked his head as low as he could get. "Reckon we need to get behind the table. This door and these walls ain't enough cover."
Chris nodded his agreement, then did his best to retaliate while Vin crawled over to the heavy table and upturned it with his shoulder and some muscle. A few seconds later Larabee joined him, grunting out a groan as he came around behind, hand going to his upper right thigh where he'd been hit. He grimaced.
"You okay?" The question was tinged with concern.
"Yeah," Chris answered disgustedly. It was more of an inconvenience than anything else. "Stings a bit."
"Wonder who they are?" Vin asked, just for the sake of talking and having Chris answer.
"Does it matter?" came the nearly irritated answer as a well-placed shot tinged off the stove pipe sending a puff of black soot into the air.
"Guess not." Vin looked at his friend's leg then his eyes strayed to the whiskey bottle on the little table beside the bed.
"It's not worth the try, Vin," Chris said, reading the tracker's thoughts. He watched Tanner untie his bandanna and use it to wrap around his leg wound. He let out a hiss as Vin pulled it tight.
For a moment silence reigned.
Both men let out a ragged breath and quickly assessed their situation. Neither had to point out that they were running out of ammo and had no clue who was after them or why. They were sitting ducks.
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"What do ya reckon?"
"Reckon we got 'em penned like a fox in a hen house."
"Think that be Jed?"
"Course it be Jed. Why ya think we're shootin' at 'im? And 'im shootin' back at us'n?"
"Just didn't look like him, is all. Changed some since we seen 'im last. Kinda skinnied up."
"Skinnied up cuz he been doin' all that runnin'. Make any man skinny knowin' he's bein' chased."
"Wonder who's that with 'im?"
"Don't matter. Some varmint. Skunks run with they own kind, don'tcha know?"
"Pretty quiet in there. Reckon they's dead?"
"Mebbe close to it. Mebbe playin' possum. Mebbe we oughten ta find out."
"You do the talkin'."
"I ain't gonna do it. You do it. Cain't shoot worth a lick, might as well talk."
"Whadda mean I cain't shoot? I kin shoot better'n you and you know'd it. Worthless ol' coot!"
"Who you callin' old, you run down . . . what?"
"Shhh . . . listen. You hear somethin'?"
"I don't hear nothin'. Quit shushin' me . . . oh, wait . . . shhh, listen!
"I already said that! YOU listen! Quiet!"
"Guess they ain't dead then."
"You were quick ta note that."
"Quiet yer tongue and listen . . . ya ol' coot.
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"Who the hell are you and what do you want?" Chris bellowed out, his patience running thin. His leg was throbbing and every time he looked around the table all he saw was sunlight pouring in through broken windows and holes big as fists. This was even worse then when the Nichol's shot the place up. And he was getting mighty tired of it. So much for peace and quiet.
That lull in the shooting meant either the ambushers were taking their time reloading or regrouping, Chris wasn't sure which. Vin had crawled up near a window and peered out through one of the huge bullet holes but said he didn't see any movement. Wonder what the odds would be that they packed up and moved on. A bet Ezra wouldn't even take he'd guess and sure enough, no sooner did that thought pass when they finally heard from their attackers. Vin hurried over to the night stand, grabbed the whiskey bottle then joined Larabee behind the table once again.
"Damn! Thought there for a minute they might have come to their senses and left." Blue eyes for an instant met hazel ones and smiled.
"Jed? Who the hell's, Jed?" Larabee asked Vin incredulously when hearing "Jed" was being called out.
Vin gave a quick shake of his head. He, like his friend, had no clue. They each took a swig from the bottle and prepared for the next round.
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"You in there, Jed?" We know'd you are! Come on out and face us you low-down scallywag!
Inside the house Vin and Chris looked at each other. Eyebrows quirked. Scallywag?
"You sure know how ta pick 'em, Chris."
"Me? What makes you think it's me they're after."
"It's your place they're shootin' up. Figure it must be you . . . Jed." He added that last with a grin on his face.
Larabee shook his head, a smile touching the corners of his mouth. "Scallywag, my . . . You got the wrong man!" he shouted out. "No one in here named Jed!"
Back out in the bushes, two men stopped in their reloading.
"Whad he say?"
"Says we got the wrong man. Says they ain't no Jed in there." A grimy hand swept over an equally grimy and whiskery face. "Reckon mebbe we got the wrong place?"
"What else ya reckon he's goin' ta say? Course he's gonna say they ain't Jed. Sides, we follered that youngin's directions right here. He oughten ta know, wearin' that badge and all. It's him. We got 'im trapped and he's slappin' his gums tryin' ta save his worthless hide."
"Mebbe we should ask who he is ifn it ain't him."
"I'm a tellin' ya . . . it's him."
"Don't hurt ta ask."
"Like we're gonna recognize any name! Okay, okay, go ahead. Don't want ta put up with yer lip hangin' down ta yer knees. Go ahead ask!" He turned his head so as not to have his companion yell into his ears again.
"Ifn ya ain't, Jed, who are ya then?" He quickly added, "Ain't sayin' we'll believe ya nohow!"
"What do we got, a couple of backwoods yahoos on our hands?" Chris ground out, then hissed in pain as Vin poured whiskey on his bullet wound. Tanner had figured since it seemed they were at a standstill, he'd better clean the wound while he could. Larabee had only agreed because he didn't want to disagree with the tracker. He trusted the man . . . with his leg, with his life.
"Names Larabee! Chris Larabee! And you'd better get the hell off my property before I do something you'll regret!" All said in a growl which came partly from the pain and partly from anger.
Vin peeked a look at the gunfighter while dabbing alcohol on the wound. Larabee never gave up. He liked that about the man. They were of the same mind.
Chris grabbed his leg and hissed through the pain. "I'm gettin' damn tired of this. How many bullets you got left?"
"Got an idea."
Chris looked at Vin and watched as the blue eyes tracked to somewhere up and towards the front door. He grinned . . . wickedly.
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"Larabee? Did he say Larabee?"
"Shore did. Chris Larabee. Ain't he a gunfighter? Faster than a snake and meaner than . . ."
"Yeah, yeah, I know, dadgummit." How the hell you reckon he got hooked up with Jed?"
"I tell ya, I don't think it be Jed we got cornered in there. Thinkin' mebbe we made a mistake." He looked at his partner who appeared to be ponderin' that thought. Either that or he was about to pass gas.
"So ifn the one we thought was Jed turns out ta be this Larabee gunslinger, mayhap the other feller is Jed.
"Had long hair. Jed don't got long hair.
"It's been near a year. Coulda growed. Sides that young feller said ta take the left fork after the right fork, hmmm, or mebbe it was the right fork after the left fork. WHAT? Ain't my fault you cain't foller directions."
"Me? Don't you be puttin' this on me, cousin Earl. I done tole you afore we started shootin' that it weren't him, but, nooo, you been afire for redeemin' yer sister's honor, come hell or high water."
"You was jest as interested in gettin' the scallywag as I was, you good-fer-nothin', varmint. I knowed you got eyes fer her . . . "
"That ain't so, Earl! I jest come along ta make shore you didn't git yerself kilt." He could tell by the look Earl gave him that he didn't believe a word he'd said. So what if he did come along to help put an end to Jedadiah Higgins? The man had taken Earl's sister, Eurlene, to a hoe-down months ago and had attacked her, or so she said, and Eurlene was as pure as the driven snow, in his eyes anyway, and so they had tracked the man here and were going to avenge his attack on Eurlene. "So whad we gonna do now?" He needed to get Earl back on track. He turtled his head to protect his hearing when his cousin yelled at the house.
"Yer shore neither one of you ain't Jed Higgins? We's told this was the place!"
Vin looked at Chris and Chris looked at Vin with mirrored looks of confusion. They both said "Higgins?" at the same time.
"Loner," Vin supplied, running the map of how to get to the man's place through his head. Think they," he jutted his chin in the direction of their ambushers, "took a coupla wrong turns."
"Their unlucky day," Larabee ground out, angrier now, knowing that he and Vin were victims of at least two men who couldn't tell right from left. "You ready?"
Vin nodded. Time to put an end to this farce.
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"What you be thinkin', Earl?" The man had that constipated look again.
"I'm thinkin' we need ta hightail on outta here. I'll keep 'em busy, you git the horses, then we'll head for the hills. They never seed us, so won't ever knowed who we are."
"Whad about Jed? We still gonna go after him, ain't we?"
"Cain't now. Gonna hafta come back 'nother time or lie ta Eurlene and tell her we got 'im." He looked over at his cousin.
They nodded their agreement. They'd lie to Eurlene. She'd never know anyhow.
"You go, I'll pelt the house a coupla times."
Earl's cousin left the scene and Earl got ready to shoot another round or two into Larabee's house.
Back in the house, Tanner had made his move to grab Stutz's long-range rifle Chris had hung over his door* when a volley of bullets penetrated the house. Vin went down hard on his back, rifle cradled to his chest. He cocked the handle and swore.
"Vin? You alright?" Chris' heart nearly stopped as he watched his friend hit the floor.
Then Larabee heard Tanner growl and with quickness that belied any injury, Vin was at one blown-out window honing the site in on an unlucky ambusher.
One shot followed closely by another and the men inside the house were rewarded with hearing a yowl of pain.
Chris scrambled to the other front window, grimacing in pain, but not wanting to miss out if one or more of the ambushers decided to come out from their hiding place in surrender. He figured he'd plug one or both of them just for the hell of it. He looked over at Vin and winced at the amount of blood covering Tanner's right side of his face. "Vin?"
Recognizing the concern in Larabee's voice, and knowing what it was about, Vin tried to put him at ease. "'S'alright, cowboy. Looks worse than it is." He turned and gave a smirk to Chris. "Think maybe we got 'em."
"One for sure," Chris agreed, turning from Vin to look back out the window.
"I'm goin' out the back, circle around behind. You alright?" At Chris' nod, he got ready to move, but was stopped by a voice.
Chris and Vin looked at each other and grinned.
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"OW! Damn! I'm hit! MARLEY! Marley? Get back here! I need help. Damn. Got me good, too. Lucky bastard! MARLEY!"
"Earl? Hey, Earl," Marley called, coming up behind his cousin.
"Marley. One of 'em shot me. Shoot a round . . ."
"Hey Earl?" Marley cleared his throat, trying to get Earl's attention. His cousin was still looking in the direction of the house.
"WHAT? Didn't you hear what I said? Let's feed them varmints some more lead. They's gonna pay . . ."
Earl finally turned around. "WHAT? Oh."
Earl paled even more and not only from the loss of blood when seeing a tall man with a mustache holding a rifle on his cousin. The man had a smile on his face when he said "howdy", but it didn't go all the way to the eyes. Still it was only one man . . . "Damn," he muttered, realizing he and Marley had been caught red-handed, then whispered another curse when hearing someone else speak.
"Only these two, Buck," JD reported as he and Nathan came hustling to join the group. "And these are the two I told how to get to Jed's place. Guess they got lost."
Before Earl could say anything, the black man had pushed him flat on the ground and was examining his wounds.
"You'll live," Nathan said, contempt in his voice.
"He hasn't met Chris yet," Buck deadpanned. "Speaking of which . . . Chris! Vin! Don't shoot! It's Buck! We got 'em!" He emphasized that fact by jabbing Marley in the back with his rifle. "Get a move on. Somebody I'd like you ta meet."
JD grinned and followed after helping Nathan get Earl to his feet.
The two men in the house sighed and sagged their weary bodies back against the shot-up planked walls. Both men closed their eyes, thankful that the situation was under control.
"So much for peace and quiet," Chris said wistfully.
"Reckon you'd be better off in town, way things been goin' out here."
Chris answered that with half-hearted chuckle.
"I know of a quiet place, stream full of fish, grass high as a man's chest . . ."
"When do we leave?" Chris asked, opening one eye and turning his head to look at Tanner and smiled when he saw the grin on the man's face. Vin's eyes were still closed and that worried him some. Maybe Vin was hurt worse than he thought. He was about to call out his name again when Vin spoke.
"Think I hear Nathan out there. Guessin' when he finishes with us, we can be on our way." He met Chris' eyes and gave him a quick nod letting the gunman know he was alright. He knew his friend was worried about him.
Chris gave him a small nod in agreement. Tanner could read his mind at times. "Best thing I've heard all day," he said, laying his head back, closing his eyes once again.
"Hey, you two alright in there?" Buck's voice boomed out, then the door was opened and nearly fell off, being held fast by only one hinge.
JD whistled as he came through the door. "This is worse than what those Nichols brothers did."
"Vin? How bad you hurt?" Nathan asked, coming in on the heels of JD, seeing the tracker first.
"It ain't much, Nathan," Vin said, both men's attention then directed at Larabee who grimaced and grunted in pain as he stood up.
"No, no, Chris, just stay down now. I need ta take a look at that wound."
"In a minute," the gunslinger told the healer, making his way out the door.
"I gotta see this," JD said enthusiastically, following at a safe distance behind Larabee.
Nathan just shook his head and told Vin to stay where he was while he went to get some water.
Outside Buck stood with his rifle on two older men. Both dressed in clothing that marked them as backwoodsmen from somewhere south. Slight resemblance in body and face. One holding the other up. Vin's bullets had found their mark, thought Larabee, unfortunately, the man looked like he'd live.
"You picked the wrong man," Chris growled out, pulling his Ivory-handled gun up and pointing it first at the man named Earl.
There was no waver in the arm that held the gun. It was straight and rigid and meant business. Menacing. Just like the look of the man holding it. Then the weapon was turned on Marley.
Pulling the hammer back, Larabee's eyes bore holes in the smaller of the two men. "You don't have any bullet holes in you."
"Now, Chris," Buck interjected, then closed his eyes and sighed when he heard the trigger snap forward.
Marley fell backwards in a dead faint and Earl fell right along with him since it had been Marley that was holding him up.
Buck bit his lip and JD quietly snickered behind Larabee after nearly being in shock thinking Chris was going to shoot the men right where they stood.
"Guess it's your lucky day," Chris tossed out to Earl, then turned and limped back into the house.
"Dadburn," Earl finally said, his eyes big as saucers. "He is meaner than an pole cat."
"Oh you don't know the half of it," Buck told him, then pushed him with the barrel of the gun into a prone position. "Don't move! JD? Hitch up Chris' wagon so we can get these fools ta town." Before the young man moved, the ladies' man asked after Vin. Getting the assurance that Tanner was fine, Buck went to look inside the house, keeping one eye on the ambushers, or the one that was still conscious anyway.
An hour later, Larabee's buckboard with two yahoo cousins tied up in the back headed to Four Corners, escorted by Wilmington, Dunne and Jackson.
Galloping off in the opposite direction were Tanner and Larabee, heading toward some much needed peace and quiet.
* Refers to the story "The Curse"