Characters: JD, Buck
Note: Just a vent after losing a nearly completed story. Gotta make light of it or go crazy I reckon. "Stupid, stupid, stupid. How could I be so stupid?" (Vin Tanner, "SOTP"). My sentiments to myself exactly. This turns out for the better though. All seven do make an appearance.
"You LOST it?"
"No, I didn't say I LOST it, I just don't know were it is, is all!" Buck said, exasperation in his voice as he busted his way though the saloon doors, JD right on his heels. The hotly debated topic started in the middle of the street, as Buck Wilmington was sauntering over to the saloon for breakfast. His young friend, JD Dunne, had appeared out of nowhere and begun firing questions at him. Now it had spilled over into the saloon, surely due to ruin the taste of Inez's excellent cooking, Buck figured. And JD was like a tick on a hound, was another observation.
"Besides, what makes you think I know anything about this anyway?" Buck asked, sitting down heavily, waving a hand in the air, signaling he needed a meal. He sighed and rolled his eyes at his tablemates, Ezra Standish, Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez.
"Because, you were the last one to see it, that's why!" JD stood next to the tall man, refusing a chair, one index finger punching the table for emphasis. "It's important, Buck!"
"JD, all I saw was a half rolled piece of paper with two rocks on it. Who puts a coupla dirty old rocks on something that's important?" He held his hands out as if questioning the others at the table. And they, wisely, ignored him, and the squabble.
"I was trying to straighten it out! I ordered it for Casey's birthday and it came rolled up."
Stupid way to send something, Buck thought.
The paper in question was a famous poem, one that JD's favorite young lady, Miss Casey Wells had picked out from a catalog in Potter's Mercantile. Dunne had wanted to get her something special and with the secretive help of Gloria Potter asking some nifty questions, Mrs. Potter was able to find something, modestly priced, that JD could afford. And now, the gift had disappeared. To say JD was frantic was a huge understatement.
"Ezra watched the prisoners after I left and it was there then," Dunne continued his tirade, paused and looked over at the conman for confirmation.
"That is true. I watched personally as the paper in question was being neatly unfurled right before my eyes," he stated and saw Wilmington narrow his eyes at him.
"And then it was you, Buck," JD pointed out "and when Josiah got there for his duty, he says it wasn't anywhere around."
"That's right," Josiah agreed, wiping his mouth with his napkin and tossing it on his immaculately cleaned plate. "Nowhere to be found."
"So it had to be on your watch," JD reasoned, watching his friend, possibly soon-to-be ex-friend, shovel food into his mouth like it was his last meal. Might be too, Dunne thought, if he didn't start cooperating.
"Well, JD, I get lots of visitors while I'm on 'watch', if ya know what I mean," Wilmington, the town's undisputed ladies' man bragged before his smile and waggling eyebrows eroded into seriousness because of the stern looks he was receiving from the men at the table. "Look, all I'm saying is, is well, maybe it got thrown away. It's..."
"Thrown away!" JD's voice rose two octaves. He cleared his voice and tried again, somewhat better this time. "Thrown away? Buck, you'd better be... Mrs. Potter even had a special frame she was saving for me to put it in. Damn!" his palm slapped the table hard enough to make the others wince.
So he's the one she was saving that for, Buck mused. Good choice.
Walking away from the table, Dunne turned and pointed his finger at Wilmington, he just knew Buck was hiding something, but he had no words left to say. Then he stalked out of the building, his hopes of giving the perfect gift, crushed.
"WHAT?" Buck exclaimed, seeing all eyes on him. "What makes everyone think I had something to do with this? I could be innocent you know," the last statement said in a indignant tone, not believing his friends thought the worst of him.
"Man is thought to be innocent until proven guilty," Josiah said, wisdom oozing from his voice.
"Thank you, Josiah!" Buck stated firmly, appreciative of the fact someone had faith in him.
"Are you?" Nathan asked, working at keeping his face serious. "Innocent that is?"
"Could be," Buck restated, mumbling, his mood dampening. "Oh hell!" he groaned, tossing his napkin over a half eaten tortilla. "Done spoiled my meal. Reckon I'd better go and see what I can do ta help." His chair scraped across the floor as he got up and stomped out of the saloon.
"Somehow the words 'innocent' and 'Buck Wilmington' seem to be in direct contrast of one another," Ezra noted. "I believe I smell a rat."
"Me too," Nathan agreed, smiling. And it's wearing a moustache and a Colt .45." The table erupted in chuckles and knowing smiles. "I do feel bad for JD though," he added after a moment.
"Ah yes. The poor lad. But have no fear, I am quite sure Mr. Wilmington will somehow save face in all of this."
"Could be innocent, you know," Josiah reiterated, tongue rooting out a stuck piece of bacon between his teeth and watching Nathan nod, realizing it could be true.
"Care to place a bet, gentlemen?"
"Buuuck!" the rogue's name drawn out in surprise and happiness. "You're early. Come in. I wasn't expecting you just yet. Let me run upstairs to get my shawl." She gave him a quick peck on his cheek. The pretty young gal giggled giddily as Wilmington grinned at her, hat in hand, and nodded in agreement. There was nothing more he loved to do than spend time with Miss Millie Cooper, but this time he had a ulterior motive for making a date with her... and for showing up early.
The minute Millie headed up the stairs, Buck began his search in the sitting room. Confounded things were everywhere-- sitting, hanging. Who in their right mind had so many of the stupid things anyway? He finally spotted what he was looking for on the wall just to the right side of the piano.
Millie's "What are you doing, Buck?" nearly gave the big man a heart attack and he fumbled with the frame on the wall.
"Just straightening this is all," was the quick-thinking comeback. "Was a bit crooked," he told her as she came to stand by him, studying the saying that hung in an ornate frame.
"Mama loves that poem and the frame. She thinks you are a saint for giving it to me." Millie giggled again. "But we know you aren't a saint, don't we?" Her eyes flirted with him.
Buck laughed along with her, took her arm and led her out to the rented carriage, helping her aboard. "Oh dang! Be right back, musta left my hat in the house. Think I was a bit distracted," he said and gave her his biggest grin. She sat up prim and proper at the compliment and told him to hurry. And he did, hurry that is. Millie just knew that big smile he had on his face when returning was meant for her and what was in store for them on their picnic.
"You found it! How? When?" JD's glum face lit up like a candle in the night when Buck handed him something in brown paper wrapping tied up with a pretty hair ribbon made into a bow.
"Now, you know ol' Buck, once he gets on the trail of something..." he was taking such delight in seeing his young friend happy, the words tumbled out of his mouth. With a wave of his hand he continued, "I just did some back trackin' of askin' those that came to visit me at the jail and... well, never mind about that. I had Mrs. Potter put it in that special frame of yours and even had her toss in that piece of ribbon there," he tapped the package lightly. Seeing Dunne was about to ask more questions, he added, "Well, you'd best be on your way boy, if you want to get that gift to your girl on time."
"Right! Thanks, Buck! You're the best!" Wilmington was treated to a face-splitting grin before JD took off at a run to the livery.
Whew! thought Buck, wiping his brow with the back of his hand. Giving his head a shake and smiling, he congratulated himself on how smooth and smart he was. He figured he'd just wear that smile right into the saloon and get himself a well-deserved beer. Making things right made for a powerful thirst. Maybe even Standish would congratulate him on his achievement by buying. Ehhh, probably not.
Rounding the corner to the saloon, Wilmington lurched to a stop. His eyes bugged a little and with a quickness belying a big man, jumped back off the boardwalk and pressed up against the side of the building, hoping he hadn't been seen. Well, Chris Larabee had seen him but hopefully wouldn't give him away. Surely his old friend could tell he hadn't wanted to be seen. He'd have to explain later, but right now Miss Millie Cooper was not someone he wanted to talk with. He squinted and leaned closer to the edge of the building to listen in on the conversation.
"So someone broke into your home?"
"Yes, well, no, I mean, the door latch nor any windows were broken, but there was definitely someone in there."
"Anything missing besides a picture off the wall?"
Buck grimaced and whispered a silent oath.
"Not that we can tell. Papa made a thorough search and didn't see anything else. And it really wasn't a picture but a special poem put into a frame. Why anyone would steal that, I don't know." Millie eyes watered. "It was a gift given to me by Mr. Wilmington."
That statement gave Chris pause to think, his lips pursed. The way "Mr. Wilmington" had jumped back around the corner, he knew something was going on. What now? Chris thought. He should just call Buck out, knowing he was hiding right around the corner, but instead, continued with his questioning.
"See anyone suspicious hanging around?"
"No. No one. We were all away when it happened."
"Be alright if we come and look around?"
"Oh yes, would you please? I know it would alleviate any fears my folks have." Millie paused for a moment, looked around secretively and whispered, "Perhaps that handsome Mr. Tanner could come by and..."
Around the corner Wilmington's eyes widened and a "huh" choked out of him. What?! Handsome Mr. Tanner? His eyes narrowed. The rest of Millie's conversation was reduced to mumbling in Buck's ears. He grabbed the lapels of his jacket and gave an indignant pull, then smoothed his moustache and stepped out onto the boardwalk. Handsome Mr. Tanner my left foot, he thought as he plastered on a smile and prepared himself to act the part of someone who was astonished at the maliciousness of some people who'd steal from others.
Larabee saw Buck appear and give him a tiny shake of his head with a look that said, "Don't ask!" He watched with a solemn face and a raised eyebrow as Buck turned on the charm and steered the now emotional Miss Millie Cooper away from him with promises that "he alone would do everything in his power to find the scoundrel that stole the gift he'd given her."
Nathan and Josiah came by just about then, heading to the saloon, Chris decided to join them. Two ordered beers, the other a good stiff drink.
"What just happened out there with the charming Miss Cooper?" Ezra asked Larabee, setting the drinks on the table. "She seemed to be in some kind of distress."
Chris took a sip of whiskey, licked his lips, sat back in his chair and shook his head. "Not for certain. Somethin' about a missing poem that hung on a wall. Cooper figures someone was in their house and stole it. Only thing that went missing," he paused before continuing. It was one of those pauses that comes when a person is trying to make sense of something. "Buck's taking care of it."
Standish cut his eyes to Jackson and Sanchez. They'd been smart not to bet with him. Knowing smiles and quiet chuckles broke out.
"You boys want to let me in on this?" Larabee asked and then listened to Ezra's eloquent story telling of JD, Buck and the missing, now stolen, poem, that the three knew instinctively was Dunne's gift for Casey. Standish added he didn't doubt that Miss Wells was probably "now holding in her hands the missing/stolen/now miraculously found, gift-poem, ensconced in it's special frame."
"So much for innocent until proven guilty," Josiah deadpanned.
"More like, guilty until proven innocent," Ezra retorted, digging in his breast pocket, bringing out a deck of cards, "at least where Mr. Wilmington is concerned," he added.
"Someday," Nathan said, shaking his head, "someday that Buck is going to meet his match."
Vin Tanner walked though the bat-wing doors and joined his fellow peacekeepers. Before he could order his own beer, Larabee pushed his shot glass over to him, eyes telling the ex-bounty hunter to finish the drink. Noting the mischievous look and cocky grin on Chris' face, Vin sipped and waited.
"Know of a lady who's needs some trackin' done. You interested?"