Summary: The guys convince Chris to help Billy Travis deal with a bully.
#4 in A Day in the Life collection
Four Corners was slowly waking to face the new day as Vin Tanner rode into the town he had begun to think of as home. The sun had yet to peek over the horizon when he left to ride patrol, and the streets of the small community had been empty. Now the smells of coffee, frying bacon and fresh biscuits wafted through the air. Shop windows were being thrown open to catch the cool breeze before the heat of day took over.
There was comfort it the morning routine as the local stores opened for business. Vin nodded as Virgil stopped from his sweeping and waved as he road by. Just over a year ago Tanner had been the man with the broom. A lot had changed in one year.
Farther down the street a lone figure sat in front of the town's jail, book in hand. Steam curled from the cup of coffee on the table beside the man in black. Chris Larabee, local gunslinger and unofficial leader of the rag tag group of men who kept the law in the town. A group that Tanner proudly called friends. To the unsuspecting passerby, Larabee seemed unconcerned with his surroundings, but looks were deceiving. Vin had no doubt that Chris knew the moment he had entered town, and was at this very second watching his approach.
Vin dismounted and looped Peso's reins over the hitching rail before entering the jail and walking over to the potbelly stove. Taking an empty mug from a peg on the wall, Tanner then grabbed the coffee pot and headed back out the door. Vin refilled Chris' cup before filling his mug to the brim. Sitting the pot on the table for later refills, he pulled up a chair, sat down and took a long drag from the steaming cup. Eyes closed, a sigh of pleasure escaped his lips as the hot liquid slid down his parched throat.
Chris chuckled, eyeing the tracker. Nobody enjoyed their coffee quite like Tanner. "Anything to report?"
Nodding toward Peso Chris queried, "Headed somewhere?"
"Mendin' fence fer Miss Nettie."
"Use some help?"
"Wouldn' turn it down." Tanner smiled, a twinkle in his eye.
A comfortable silence settled over the two men as they watched the townsfolk go about their daily routine.
Laughter announced the arrival of the ladies' man even before he appeared around the corner of a neighboring building; boots and jacket in hand, suspenders dangling at his sides. "Boys," Buck Wilmington greeted his two friends as he slid the suspenders over his shoulders and slipped into his jacket. Leaning against the support post, he proceeded to pull on his boots.
Tanner rose and slipped into the jail. Returning with an empty mug, he filling it with coffee and handed it to Buck, who was regaling Chris with his latest conquest and recent daring escape. Watching the two old friends, Vin had to wonder what Larabee was like, back when Chris and Buck first met, before the death of his family. He thought he might have caught a glimpse last night in the saloon as Larabee exacted his revenge on Ezra Standish. Granted, it hadn't exactly been Ez's fault that Chris was the recipient of a bucket of whitewash over his head, but he was a contributing factor. The glee in Chris' eyes as Ez nearly self-destructed before them was a sight to behold on the normally somber man.
Larabee looked up as if feeling Vin's eyes on him. "What's got you looking like the cat that just ate the canary?
"Just thinkin' on how nice that shirt yer wearing looks. Kinda reminds me a' somethin' though," Tanner's eyes twinkled with mirth.
Buck began to laugh as he realized what Vin was referring to. Chris had chosen today, of all days, to don his black and white striped shirt. "Decide, it was a good look on ya, Pard?" Buck joked, as the infamous Larabee glare swung between the two men.
"Hey, what'd I miss?" JD Dunne's voice rang out as he bound up the steps to join the others.
"Just complimentin' Chris on his nice attire," Buck volunteered, while Tanner just smiled and drank his coffee, and Chris continued to glare. "Where you been, Kid?"
"I promised Mary Travis that I would walk Billy over to the church this morning. According to Josiah, he's doing 'penance' for his part in Chris' little mishap yesterday." JD failed miserably in his attempt to suppress the smile that spread ear to ear at the memory. One look at Chris and he realized he was treading on dangerous ground. "Hey, isn't that Ezra over there? Little early for him to be up and about isn't it?"
"Good try Kid," Buck laughed at JD's feeble attempt to change the subject. "Guess ol' Ez didn't enjoy sleeping on the floor last night," he commented, nodding toward the saloon.
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The batwing doors swung back into place as Ezra Standish move outside to face the day. The night owl was normally still abed at this unruly hour, but a night spent on the floor, compliments of Chris Larabee, didn't lend itself to sleeping in. Note to self, replace bed slats. Ezra had to give the man credit. It was a plan that was executed to perfection, allowing Ezra to punish himself almost more than Chris' ultimate revenge.
Suddenly the feeling of being watched invaded the gambler's being. Turning toward the jail he saw the eyes of his compatriots were turned his direction. Perhaps it would be prudent to check on Chaucer in the livery at this juncture.
Ezra nodded to the group and touched two fingers to the brim of his hat in his signature salute.
The others seemed content to go back to their discussion so the gambler lowered his self into a nearby chair, tipping it back to lean against the wall.
Ezra acknowledged Nathan Jackson, the local healer, as he walked past on the dusty street. Then pulled out the ever present deck of cards and began to shuffle.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan Jackson nodded to the men in front of the jail as he continued down the street. "Where you headed so early?" JD queried.
"I told Josiah I'd help him with the boys today. Thought we'd talk to them about the dangers of pulling pranks, bully or no bully. Innocent folks are usually the ones gettin' hurt," the healer commented before continuing toward the church.
Vin watched the man's back in contemplation. "Chris, we've still got us a problem."
Chris looked at Vin and waited for him to continue.
"Yer and Ez's problems all started 'cause young Billy was havin' trouble wit' some young'en. That ain't goin' away." Vin said, thoughtfully.
"Vin's got a point." JD chimed in.
"Maybe you should go talk to him Chris," Buck offered. "Not like he has a pa he can go to for help."
"It's not my place to interfere," Chris looked at the others and tried to explain. "Children have to learn to deal with differences on their own. We can't solve all their problems for them. Sometimes they have to learn to stand up for themselves. We shouldn't get involved."
Vin had to wonder if Larabee was trying to convince them, or himself. "Guess yer right, Cowboy. Boy's gotta learn ta fight 'is own battles sometime." A twinkle lit the trackers eyes, "Course he could always try a few more 'a Ezra's tricks."
Realization settled over Chris' face as his eyes locked with Tanner's. "STANDISH ! ! !"
+ + + + + + +
The cards dance through the nimble fingers as Ezra pulled out the 'elusive' Ace of Spades time and again. A smile creased the striking face as he reminisced about one especially well played hand, poor cretin never knew what hit him. Now had I . . .
"STANDISH ! ! !"
Ezra jerked forward, clutching the deck to his chest, as the front two chair legs landed with a resounding thud and a single card fluttered to the floor at his feet. Leaning over he retrieve the wayward Joker. This can not be a fortuitous sign.
Ezra rose from the chair, placing the errant card into the deck and returning the deck to his vest pocket before walking slowly across the street to join the others. He leaned against a pillar and brushed dust off of a ruffled sleeve before meeting Larabee's glare. You bellowed? "You wished to see me, Mr. Larabee?"
"What exactly did you tell Billy Travis?" Chris snarled.
"Mr. Larabee, it was my belief that after last nights activities, you were prepared to put the ... unfortunate happenstance behind us,"
Lesser men had been known to crumble at the look he received.
Vin moved between his two friends, "Ez, Chris jist wants ta know what you an' Billy talked about."
Ezra's questioning glance flew to Vin then Chris. With an exaggerated sigh he began his tale, "I was sitting shuffling my cards, quite like this morning ... before I was so rudely interrupted ... when young Billy and the Potter boy stopped to watch. I was entertaining them with some 'slight of hand' when a group of children walked past. Noting their look of concern and feeble attempt to remain unobserved, I queried them on its cause. At first they were reticent, but with a little coaxing were soon willing to share their plight."
"Billy, fessed up," Vin interpreted, before JD could ask.
"It would seem," the gambler continued, glaring at Vin for interrupting, "one youngster had recently taken upon the task of becoming young Master Travis' shadow. Stalking the lad and causing grief at every turn. I counseled young Billy to discuss the issue with his mother, but he emphatically declined, stating that she would advocate that he "learn to get along'. A proposal to avoid the perpetrator was met with little more enthusiasm, as was my suggestion of avoidance."
"But what about the pranks?" JD asked impatiently.
Standish seemed to consider his words carefully before continuing. "I too, found it a necessity to deal with a ruffian at a tender age. Being smaller than my tormenter, my only recourse was to be swifter and more cunning than he." Ezra appeared lost in his memories, as a sad smile touched his face. "Cousin Percy could do no wrong in Aunt Thea's eyes; and I, well ... . They never did figure out how the frog got into the water pitcher, or why so many of the eggs that Percy gathered seemed to be rotten. The poor cat was blamed for the dead fish in the boy's bed. Oh, and the dead snake hanging from the rafter of the privy ... that was my most elaborate endeavor. Quite worth the scream it elicited from my cousin ... Aunt Thea's shooting the poor dead creature was an added benefit."
"What about the bucket of whitewash?" JD prodded the man to continue.
"Ah, yes. That undertaking was in the developmental stage when Maude swooped down and whisked me off on yet another of her adventures. New Orleans I believe was the destination.
"Ez, tell 'em about your plan to tie a rope between two doors, so that when one door was pulled open the other would be pulled shut," Buck offered. " How you planned to yell fire and then watch 'em do battle to get out."
"Buck, jist where was ya when Ez talked ta Billy about prankin?" Tanner questioned.
"Yes Buck, where were you at the time?" Larabee added, an unreadable expression crossing his features, as he took another drink of coffee.
"Why Mr Wilmington was there. If I recall correctly, he had a suggestion of his own to contribute." Ezra stated, not noticing the ladies' man squirm. "Something to do with placing a sticky substance on a privy seat, I believe."
Coffee spew from Larabee's mouth as a coughing fit set in. Vin began to pound the man's back in an attempt to help.
Wilmington did his best to avoid eye contact with his long time friend and to control the grin that was threatening to take over his stoic expression. "Chris, I think we've heard enough. It's pretty clear you need to have a talk with Billy before someone gets hurt."
Ezra's eyes swung between the two friends noting their reactions. Very interesting, it would appear our Mr. Wilmington has let the proverbial cat out of the bag, but just how did the event play out? "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I think I shall retire to the saloon in search of a game of chance." With his customary two finger salute, Standish turned and made his way back to the saloon. Yes, I believe I shall invite my 'good friend, Buck' over for some libations this evening. Camaraderie, share some memories, it could prove most enlightening. The glint of a gold tooth could be seen as a smile crept across the gamblers face.
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JD watched as Chris, Buck and Vin headed down the street. He had offered to saddle the horses in preparation for the trip to Nettie Well's place. In the meanwhile, Chris planned to have a talk with Billy and Caleb. While mending fences, wasn't JD's idea of a good time, there was the added incentive of spending some time with Miss Nettie's niece, Casey.
Buck had volunteered to accompany Chris to the church for 'moral support,' as he put it. Vin, well Tanner had joined for the pure amusement.
+ + + + + + +
The old church was a buzz with activity as the three men approached. Nathan was currently whitewashing the south side of the building and Josiah appeared to be repairing the top step, hammer in hand. At first there was no sign of the young helpers but with a fit of shouts and giggles, the two came bursting out the front doors, sliding to a stop by the preacher. "Josiah, Josiah, we done wiped off all the ... the ... ." Billy stopped and looked at Caleb, hoping the other youngster could help him find the illusive word.
"Pews," Josiah offered, only to send the boys into another fit of giggles.
"Yep, the p'ews is done," Caleb offered with a snicker. "What next?"
"Can we help Nathan paint?" Billy questioned with pleading eyes.
Josiah looked at the two energetic helpers and scratched his chin in thought, "Well ... ."
"Josiah," Chris voice interrupted. "Mind if I borrow the boys for a bit?"
Vin watched as Billy's eyes lit up with excitement at the sight of his hero. Then, just as quickly that light was extinguished as the memory of a very irate Chris Larabee came to mind.
"I think Nathan and I can spare them for a bit," Josiah offered, before directing his attention to his young helpers. "Boys, remember what we discussed? Now, go on."
Josiah stood and gestured for Buck and Vin to follow him as he joined Nathan around the corner of the building. They, however, stayed well within hearing distance and settled in for a bit of eavesdropping.
Billy and Caleb walked over to the 'man in black', heads hanging low. "I'm awful sorry Mr. Chris," Caleb Potter's voice was barely above a whisper.
"Yeah, Chris, we didn't mean for ... we were just ... I thought ... ," Billy's lip started to quiver as a solitary tear rolled down his cheek. "I'm sorry too, Chris."
Chris moved over to sit on the steps and motioned for the boys to join him. "I know what happened yesterday was an accident." Two blonde heads nodded in agreement. "I'm also sure that Josiah explained how easily someone could have been hurt." Again the boys concurred. "And I know that I have your promise that you will never try that again." It was both a statement and question.
"Yes sir, I promise," Billy sniffled and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his shirt.
"I promise, Mr. Chris," Caleb added. "It's just that Sammy won't leave Billy alone."
Around the corner, Josiah's ears perked up at the volunteered name. All morning he had been attempting get the boys to identify their tormentor.
"Just what does this Sammy do that bothers you?" Chris questioned the boys.
"Sammy follows Billy everywhere!" Caleb offered as if that alone explained all.
"Go on?" Chris encouraged.
"Well, we was goin' fishin' an' Sam went an' threw rocks in the pond and scared off the fish, so Billy would play ball instead." Caleb continued. "Then, when we choosed up sides, Sammy didn't get to be on Billy's team, got mad and ran off with the ball. We can't go nowhere without Sam taggin' along and ruinin' everything."
Billy's head was bobbing in agreement, "Sometimes Sam calls me names and punches me in the arm." The youngster pulled up his sleeve to show a pale bruise on his upper arm.
Chris had heard just about enough. Maybe it was time to have a talk with the child's parents. "Billy, you need to point out this Sammy to me,"
Billy and Caleb both raised an arm and pointed to a group of children down the street. "There." They said in unison.
Four heads popped out from behind the side of the building in an attempt to see the bully in question.
Three children could be seen playing in the dust outside the newly opened dry goods store. Two young girls, one with blonde curls, the other sporting bright red pigtails, played hopscotch while an obviously younger boy watched on.
The men exchanged questioning glances. This was the bully who had caused so much trouble?
The child seemed a good year younger than either Billy or Caleb and was slight in stature, but Chris knew that looks could be deceiving.
Larabee rose slowly and prepared to face the parents of the child in question, when the door to the 'dry goods' opened and a plump woman stepped outside.
"Samantha Jane O'Conner, didn't I tell you that your chores had to be done before you could play outside? Young lady, git yourself in your room right now."
The pigtailed youngster stopped what she was doing and ran past her mother, disappearing through the doors of the store, as the stunned men watched in amazement.
Wilmington was the first to regain his senses, "Well, I'll be ... !" He jabbed an elbow into Tanner's side, "You best go rescue Chris and head on out to Nettie's place. I'll handle it from here."
Vin moved to stand beside a still bewildered Larabee.
As Buck led the two boys down the street, the lilt of laughter could be heard in their friends tone, " Billy my boy, let me tell you about 'animal magnetism' ... it's a curse we must learn to bear ... ."