Main characters: All Seven
Originally published in Magnificent Laughs 2 (2005, Neon Rainbow Press).
"It all started when JD and I were just sitting here in the jail shootin' the breeze."
"We were playing a few hands of--"
"Now, who's tellin' this story, you or me? Huh? Anyway, like I was sayin', we were just sittin' here minding our own business, when this fella storms through the door...""Which of you is Buck Wilmington?"
One look at him and I knew he was trouble, so I played it cool. "Who wants to know?"
Next thing I know, this shotgun's starin' me in the face. "Horace Watts," he says. "I think you know my daughter, Sally."
Now, I swear, I might not remember the name of every young lady I've met, but I know I never ran into Sally Watts. When this little ol' wisp of a girl creeps in the door behind her daddy, I wouldn't know her from Eve, but I can see why old Mr. Watts is mad. Miss Watts is in a family way, and it looks like she don't got a lot of time to find a family. I don't know why he thinks I'm the father--
"Shut up, Ezra."Anyway, she's standin' there lookin' shy as a shrinking violet, Mr. Watts is turnin' red, and I've still got a shotgun in my face. So I ask them, nice as you please, "What can I do for you two?"
"You're gonna marry my daughter," he says.
I'm still smilin' somehow, but I glance at Sally again and she's not lookin' at me. "Now look, Mr. Watts," I start tryin' to explain, wondering how I'm gonna talk him into taking my word over his little girl's, but then he gets all excited and waves that shotgun around.
"No more talkin'. You, young man," he nods at JD. "Go get the preacher." And JD, he doesn't say a word, just takes off like a shot.
"Well, what am I supposed to do, Buck? He had a gun."
"I'm just sayin', kid, didn't take much for you to run off."
"That's enough, Buck, I get the picture. That how you ended up in the jail?"
"Not exactly, Chris. That part kinda came later. I think you better tell it from here, JD."
"It's about time. Anyway, I figured I better go get the others to help deal with Mr. Watts. But first I went and found Josiah down at the church.""Josiah, you're not gonna believe this--there's a guy down at the jail with Buck and his daughter and he wants a shotgun wedding. He's already got the shotgun." Josiah didn't even look surprised, just grabbed his guns and told me to get the others.
Nathan was up in the clinic, and I found Vin and Ezra in the saloon. Josiah met us there, and I told 'em what happened with Mr. Watts.
"I fail to see the problem," Ezra says. I didn't know if he was joking or not, but Nathan reminded him someone would have to take Buck's patrol that night if he got himself shot, so Ezra didn't complain after that.
"Mr. Wilmington, if we were forced to intervene every time one of your jilted paramours or their relations threatened you, I fear we'd be doing little else all day."
"I'll remember that next time some bumpkin accuses you of cheating, Ezra."
"Please do, I'm--"
"If you want to get out of there sometime today, I suggest you get on with the story."
"Sorry, Chris. Like I was sayin', we met in the saloon and soon we had a plan figured out.""Okay, kid," Vin said, "you go back to the jail with Josiah and pretend like you're gonna go through with the wedding. Make sure you got Mr. Watts turned away from the door and the back window. It'd be even better if you can get him to put down the gun. Nathan, Ez, and I'll jump 'im when we get in place."
I wasn't sure about the part about getting Mr. Watts to put down his gun, but the rest sounded good to me. I figured Buck would know we had a plan and would play along. We didn't want anybody to get hurt, not even Mr. Watts. I figure he's had enough bad luck.
"Just stick to the story, JD."
"It's not like we'd be here if it weren't for you, Buck."
"Not you too, Nate!"
"JD, I'll take it from here."
"Oh, sure, Josiah."
"We headed back to the jail, JD and I."We all figured Mr. Watts might take it better if JD came back and he didn't have to worry about an ambush like the one we got planned. Mr. Watts was new to the area, so with any luck he wouldn't know there were seven of us usually, six of us in town. In fact, that was the first thing I asked him when I saw him.
"Mr. Watts. I hear you've got a wedding for me to perform. Might I ask why you think Mr. Wilmington here's the groom when you're from out of town?"
"Sally was out here in the summer, visiting her aunt in San Francisco," he answers. "Didn't say a word when she got back, but it didn't take long to realize she'd been visitin' more than her aunt. Took me a while to get the fella's name out of her, but there he is: Buck Wilmington."
Buck nearly fell off his chair. "What? Me? Now look here," he says, "you've got it all wrong..." but Mr. Watts didn't seem to be in a listening mood.
"My daughter may be many things, but she's not a liar," he shoots back at Buck. " 'Sides, how would she've known about Wilmington here if they hadn't meant before?"
"Buck's got a bit of a reputation in these parts," I say, trying to help. On second thought, maybe I should've just kept my mouth shut. Mr. Watts didn't take too kindly to the thought of his future son-in-law having laid eyes on anyone other than his Sally.
"Did I ask you, Preacher? You're only job is to marry these two before I really get mad and make my daughter a widow before she's a wife." Miss Sally started crying then, but the way her father was waving that shotgun around, I figured he meant business.
"What gave you that idea, Josiah?"
"Sarcasm is unnecessary, Mr. Wilmington."
"Shut up, Ezra."
"Shut up, both of you! Keep going, Josiah."
"Well, like I was saying, Chris, things didn't look good..."Still, I gave it one last try, this time appealing to the daughter. "Miss Sally, if you want to tell your pa something, now is the time." She just started crying louder. I wouldn't get anywhere with her, so I turned to Mr. Watts. "Sir, marriage is a sacred institution and not to be entered into in the presence of weapons." He glared at me and lifted his shotgun higher. I took that as disagreement.
But I figured Nathan and the others were close to getting in position by then, so the way I saw it, it was time we held a wedding. I got Buck and the young lady lined up so her father was facing the side wall, and even though Buck looked like he was fit to explode, I started the ceremony.
"Now, wait a minute, Josiah, that wasn't my fault."
"Just tellin' it how I saw it, Nate."
"Yeah, well, what you didn't see was that loose board that slipped under my foot. I wouldn't've tripped without that."
"All I'm sayin' is, next thing I know--"
"Let Nathan say his piece, Josiah."
"Thanks, Chris. That board really wasn't my fault..."I'd been creeping up on the back window of the jail like we'd discussed--Vin was gonna come in the front door and Ezra had the side window behind the wedding party. While they were getting into position, I went up the other side of the building from Ezra. Didn't even see the rotten board until it cracked under my boot. Right by the window, too, so that as soon as I looked up, it was straight into Mr. Watts' face. Well, that did it--the gig was up.
"Whoever you are out there, come inside or I'm gonna start shootin'!"
I figured I'd better do what he said before I got someone killed, so I came back around front. Vin got out of sight, and I went inside.
"Who're you," Mr. Watts asks right away, pointing the shotgun at me.
I figured I'd best tell 'im the truth, so I say, "Nathan Jackson. I'm the healer in this town."
"Nobody's been shot yet," he says. "What're you doin' here?"
"Just tryin' to make sure my services aren't needed," I say, real friendly, and keep my hands up. No use makin' him any itchier than he already was.
"You shoulda told him there was an army regiment outside the door."
"Wouldn't'a done any good, Bucklin--man like that gets pushed too hard, he pushes back hard."
"You're a good one to talk, Vin--you ain't sittin' in here with the rest of us."
"Seems like that makes me the expert, don't it?"
"You two gonna let me talk? Where was I? Oh, yeah. Mr. Watts, he wasn't going for it.""I don't like this. Any more of you out there?" He was starin' at the door, like he could see Vin on the other side.
I was startin' to get worried there. "Don't know what you mean--looks like you already got the law here with you," I nodded at JD.
But "I don't like it," he says again, and suddenly starts pushin' the others toward the jail. "Get in there," he orders. Didn't take long for him to be pointin' that shotgun at me, too. "You, too, get inside."
"You get inside or you'll be diggin' bullets out of yourself."
So there we were, four of us in the jail while Mr. Watts stood there with his daughter and tried to figure out what to do next. That was when Ezra came up with his brilliant plan.
"It was a sound plan, Mr. Jackson--I refuse to take responsibility for the four of you having driven Mr. Watts into such a frenzy that the man would have been suspicious of his own shadow by the time I arrived."
"Refusing to take responsibility is right."
"Are you implying--"
"I thought it was a good plan."
"Who asked you, JD?"
"Geez, Buck, just because--"
"Enough. Get to the point, Ezra."
"Of course, Mr. Larabee. The point is that the idea was sound. The result, however, was disappointing.I knocked before I came in, fully expecting to find that shotgun pointing in my direction when I came in. I wasn't disappointed.
"An' who are you?" Mr. Watts asked me with considerable suspicion. As I said, my compatriots had worked the man into a froth by then.
"Ezra--""...P. Standish, at your service," I introduced myself. "Sheriff Dunne has acquainted me with the situation, and I felt I might be of some service."
"What does that mean?" Mr. Watts asked.
"Yeah, I didn't know what it meant, either."
"Most of the town wouldn't know what he meant, JD."
"As I was saying, I went on to explain that Mr. Wilmington and I were traveling companions and had been down in Texas during the summer in question.""Therefore, there's no possibility Mr. Wilmington might be the, er, child's father," I finished.
"My daughter's no liar," Mr. Watts protested angrily.
"I would never question a lady's honor, merely her memory. She must have confused some other young man with Mr. Wilmington."
Mr. Watts glared at our resident Romeo, and while I confess the smile Mr. Wilmington gave him in return would have made even the most trusting soul wary, I believe I had sowed the seed of doubt. Unfortunately, indecision did not improve Mr. Watts' manners any. The next thing I knew, he was also herding me into the overflowing jail.
"I don't know which of you is tellin' the truth anymore, but I'm sick of you all and this town. No daughter of mine is going to marry one of a bunch of no-goods like you." And with that he proceeded to lock the door, pocket the key, and march out the door, Miss Watts in tow. I daresay, the young lady was the only one of us who looked pleased with the outcome.
"So he just left?"
"More or less. Took the long way out of town, toward Morgan's creek and the cliffs instead of the flatlands, but don't figger he knew the area too well."
"And what were you doin' all this time, Vin?"
"Well, soon as the fella and his daughter were outta sight, I came inside and tried t'open the door, but Watts took the key and we couldn't spring the lock. So I set out after him to get the key back."Wasn't hard to follow the trail--man's a city fella for sure. Rode his horse like it was a mule. His daughter really shoulda been on a stage instead of a saddle, and reckon he figured that out soon, too, 'cause I came across 'em about a mile outside of town, girl resting in the shade and her pa lookin' mad enough to spit rust. But he didn't have his gun in his hand and I did.
I asked for the key real nicely with it. "You got some friends of mine locked up back in town."
Didn't fuss, didn't even hesitate, just held it out. "Take it. I don't wanna ever see them again."
I felt kinda bad leavin' em there like that, though, and asked him how he got to town. Stage, he said, he was just in a hurry to leave so he didn't want t'wait for the next one. I told him where the next town was he could pick up the stage, then looked at his daughter. She was lookin' real remorseful, so I leaned over and added, "You ask her again and I think she'll tell this time you who you're really lookin' for."
I left him real thoughtful, and got back here just after Chris. I figger even with the resting, they're probably in town by now, or maybe on the trail of her fella.
"Sure you didn't escort them there yourself?"
"Nope--knew you'd be riled enough as it is, Buck."
"Hey, I like bein' trapped in a tiny jail cell with four other people just as much as the next fella, but I prefer gettin' cozy with someone with a few more curves, if you get my drift."
"Yeah, that's how this whole mess got started."
"What was that, JD?"
"I think the more pertinent question is whether you're completely satisfied now, Mr. Larabee, and would deign to finally let us out."
"He means, do us a favor, JD."
"Yeah, I could do that. Question is, is this gonna happen again? Five of the town's peacekeepers ending up locked in the jail by an old man and his pregnant daughter, while the sixth rides after him for the key doesn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence in the townspeople. I don't even want to think about the judge hearing about this."
Chris Larabee sighed. "Okay. Just try to stay out of trouble for the rest of the day." A chorus of murmured assents, and the building quickly cleared out, everyone avoiding his gaze as they went.
Only Vin remained at the end, and he gave Chris a grin. "Look at it this way, Cowboy--it coulda been worse."
Chris looked at him suspiciously. "How's that?"
"You coulda been in there with 'em."
"Never would've happened," Chris shook his head as he stood from the chair he'd been straddling.
"Nope." He blew out the lantern on his way out, and shut the door firmly behind him. "I woulda shot 'em all myself and saved Watts the trouble."