Gen OW - JD centric but as usual I have everybody play.
No warnings, except for a little bit of language
A fic in celebration of Andrew Kavovit's birthday on the Dunne's Darlin's list, inspired by the D Word (depressed, desperate, disappointed & determined) Drabble Challenge May 2008.
The appropriate nod to Toby Keith's song "As Good As I Once Was"
Thank you Phyllis once again for your beta-work.
"C'mon Kid, I'll buy ya a beer," said Buck after stepping through the jailhouse door.
"Can't; I'm on duty," replied JD leaning back in his chair with his feet on the desk and his lap full of wanted posters.
"Kid, there's no one here to guard," objected Buck with an exaggerated sweep of an arm toward the empty cells. "Besides there isn't gonna be any trouble today, it's too damn hot."
"Buck, I don't think..."
"We're gonna be right down the street; even if someone comes by and no one's here, the first place they're gonna look is the saloon. Today's your birthday isn't it? Treat yourself. C'mon now."
JD sighed. There was nothing but truth to Buck's arguments. "Alright," he said as he put the wanted posters aside and rose to his feet. "I have to admit my throat's drier than Josiah's last sermon."
Buck chuckled and slapped their youngest on the back as he rounded the desk. "You're improving, that one was almost good."
JD put on his hat and coat as they stepped out into the sweltering July heat.
They ambled slowly along the boardwalk taking advantage of every inch of shade on their short trek to the Saloon.
"I gotta say you picked one hellish hot day to be born."
JD snorted none too gently, "As I recall it was your birthday less than three weeks back, and it wasn't exactly weather for long underwear.
The two men entered the darkened interior of the Saloon. The sudden coolness was a welcome relief from the heat outside. The drinkery was empty save for the pretty barkeep. They left their hats on the pegs by the door and dropped their coats over chairs before stepping up to the bar.
"Inez, Inez darlin'," Buck's tone was teasing as he leaned on one elbow and smiled at the sultry, young, Mexican woman as he cocked his head over his shoulder, "I've heard it said that absence makes the heart grow fonder; did you miss me while I was gone?"
"Senor Buck, you should try leaving for longer than five minutes, maybe say... five years!" retorted Inez tartly, swatting him on the shoulder with a towel.
Buck's hand went to his heart as he threw his head back, "Inez, darlin', you wound me to the very innards of my heart."
"And what will it take to mend this, this innards wound," asked Inez.
"Ahhh, Si, and that is all?" replied Inez smirking knowingly.
"...and one for JD too."
Ignoring Buck, Inez poured his beer and turned to JD, her expression becoming gentle. "Are you sure you wouldn't a rather have milk, JD?"
Before JD could answer Buck jumped in. "It's his birthday today."
"It is?" replied Inez as she set Buck's beer down in front of him and directed her attentions entirely toward JD. She smiled at him, "Then, JD, your beer will be on-the-house."
"You don't have to do that, Miss Inez, I can pay for it," he replied feeling a little shy and awkward. He always felt that way whenever Inez singled him out. She had a quality that most of the other ladies he'd ever known lacked. In a conversation not long ago, Josiah called it "a truly genuine, raw sex-appeal". The comment had embarrassed JD terribly. Ezra had likened it to the female version of Buck's animal magnetism, "except Miss Recillos has the grace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite." Josiah had agreed Aphrodite was truly magnificent among women, but he preferred her Roman counterpart Venus, goddess of love, beauty and fertility... it was at that point JD had gotten up and left, the conversation was getting to be more than he was comfortable with. Whatever quality Inez had, it made him feel ten years old whenever he was around her.
"For you, our Sheriff who works so hard to keep us all safe, I insist," she replied still smiling. He stood there mesmerized as he looked into her eyes. He understood now when novels talked of "drowning in a woman's eyes". He remembered with a start that Buck had offered to buy him a beer for his birthday. Buck was now conveniently seated across the room at their table pretending to be out of earshot.
"Thanks, Miss Inez," he said lifting the mug in toast to her.
Inez smiled at him in reply.
JD turned and made his way toward Buck. He dropped into a chair beside him and thought about chastising Buck for reneging on the promised beer. He decided against it. It was too hot and it probably wouldn't get him anything but teasing anyway.
"Here's a little something for your birthday," said Buck as he tossed a cloth covered bundle onto the table. It landed on the table with a respectable thunk.
"What's this?" asked JD picking the gift up carefully and hefting it cautiously in his hand a couple of times, you never knew with Buck, it could be a practical joke of some kind.
JD pulled at the string and the cloth fell away to reveal a shiny, cylindrical object that fit neatly into his hand.
"Oh my gosh," the young sheriff whispered in awe. His eyes shot up to Buck's face. "For me, it's for me? You didn't have to do that."
"You've been with us nearly five years now, that's a trail marker worth observin'."
JD smiled, he recognized Buck's attempt at paraphrasing what Ezra had said on Buck's birthday about turning forty being a milestone worth commemorating. And Buck did, at least he tried. JD wasn't sure how much was truth and how much was exaggeration but Buck was up half the night partying loudly and then spent the other half of the night behind closed doors with Miss Blossom, Miss Tessa and Miss Lacey trying to prove he still had "it".
JD wasn't sure that he liked where his imagination was going when he wondered what "it" was, so he'd tried to let it lay.
Chris, on the other hand, had rapped loudly on the door and laughingly had urged Buck to give it up, "that after forty you're never as good as you once were."
Then Josiah chimed in with, "But it's nice to know you're as good once as you ever were."
Chris, Josiah, Ezra, Nathan had broken out in silly laughter over that comment. In fact they continued to laugh like silly fools for an hour over it. Even after that, at every opportunity throughout rest of the night one of them would bring it up again, and all four of them would dissolve into ridiculous giggling, if not all out belly laughter. Sure they were drunk but he didn't get the joke. He'd looked over at Vin every time the other four were in the throes of helplessness. Vin just shrugged; he hadn't gotten the joke either.
Now JD looked down at the Swiss army knife in his hand. He'd seen it in the catalogue at Mrs. Potter's Store six months ago. He'd been impressed by it and asked Mrs. Potter about ordering it.
He didn't think Buck was even interested when he had showed him the picture and read the description to him. JD had continued to talk about it on and off for a couple days until Buck had pulled his knife out of the sheath strapped to his saddle. Ten inches long if it was an inch. "This," Buck had lectured to him as he held it inches from JD's nose, "is a knife, not that puny thing."
JD had stayed mum on the subject after that but nonetheless had started saving to buy it. He couldn't believe it, now he was staring at the multi-use tool in his hand, "All the same, it costs more than two week's wages."
"Well, you seemed pretty taken with it at the time," the words were nonchalant but there was a quality to Buck's tone of voice that told JD the older man was pleased that the gift was such a hit. "We all chipped in, so it didn't set any of us back too bad and like I said five years is worth noting, especially when Ezra took odds that you wouldn't last two weeks."
"Thank you all the same, I can't remember ever getting anything this nice before." JD lifted it out of the cloth and began experimenting with it, pulling the various implements out of the handle, examining them and then pushing them back it again. He tried to think of something else to say, he was horrified to realize he was close to tears over the thoughtfulness of these six men he rode with. This really was the best gift he could remember receiving in a long time.
He looked up at Buck. The tall man smiled back at him. The tenderness in the ladies man's eyes told him that Buck realized how touched he was by the gift. JD smiled back. A sudden commotion at the batwing doors interrupted them as Josiah limped in. Nathan followed in his wake, insisting the older man lean on him to take the stress off of his injured leg.
"I'm doing just fine, brother, thanks to your diligent care," replied Josiah as he headed for the table JD and Buck were seated at.
Nathan watched until Josiah arrived safely at his destination, "Alright then, I'll get us a couple of drinks," said Nathan.
"It's a mite warm," stated Josiah before settling stiffly into a chair across the table from JD and Buck.
"That it is," agreed Buck.
"I'll say," said JD.
"What'll ya have Josiah?" asked Nathan from the bar.
"I'll have a beer," Josiah called out in reply.
"Water's better for you in this heat." replied Nathan from the bar.
"Beer," repeated Josiah firmly.
Nathan sighed resolutely and turned back to Inez, putting up two fingers.
"How you feeling Josiah?" asked JD.
"Better John Dunne, 'appreciate your concern," replied Josiah cheerfully.
"Can't help but notice you're still limping, leg still tender?" asked Buck.
"It's fine," came the brief reply.
"It's not everyday of man of your advanced years falls off a roof," said Buck smirking. JD groaned inwardly. With the heat, things had been pretty quiet. He had the feeling Buck was bored and itching to stir things up just for some fun.
"I didn't fall, I slid and if the wheelbarrow hadn't been in the road I'd have landed just fine; and as for my "advanced years" Bucklin, I can still take care of business just fine."
"What kind of business?" asked Buck grinning mischievously.
"Any kind of business you want to name," replied Josiah, eying Buck threateningly.
JD grimaced and was relieved to see Nathan turn away from the bar towards them. He was going to need help if Buck managed to stir up Josiah's Old Testament temper.
"Here," said Nathan as he set a tall glass down in front of Josiah before sitting another one down in front of himself as he took his seat beside the ex-priest.
"What's this?" asked Josiah gesturing at the glass.
"It sure don't look a beer," drawled Buck tauntingly.
"It's lemonade,' replied Nathan briefly.
"I ordered a beer," replied Josiah a touch petulantly.
"I heard you; lemonade's better for you."
"I want a beer," growled Josiah.
If he noticed the fierceness in Josiah's tone of voice, Nathan made no indication of it. "I still think you might have been concussed by the fall, you need to keep your fluids up and I don't mean beer. You can have a beer after you drink the lemonade." With that, Nathan made a toasting gesture in Josiah's direction before taking a drink of his own lemonade.
Josiah scowled and reached for his glass. JD had to smile at the exchange between his two friends. Nathan was getting better at winning the arguments when his comrades were wounded. Buck barked out a laugh which he cut short when the already perturbed preacher sent him a look full of hell's fury that told Buck that he'd be wise to shut up.
Three days before, Vin had found Josiah flat out on the ground on the far side of the church away from the street. It was obvious from the trail of tools and shingles along the roof and down onto the ground that Josiah had been working on the roof of the church and had taken the quickest route off of it. He was conscious but groggy and no one could remember for sure the last time he'd been seen on the roof, so they didn't know for sure how long he'd been lying there. The worst of the damaged seemed to be a bruised hip and a wrenched knee, but Nathan took no chances and Josiah was put on concussion watch for a couple of days.
Buck took a long swig and set his mug down noisily on the table. "Ahhh," he said with a wide mouthed exaggerated sigh. "There just ain't nothing like a cold beer on a hot day."
Josiah turned threateningly toward Buck.
"Ah, Josiah, Nathan," said JD quickly, "I want to thank you both for the Swiss army knife." He got the desired result; he had diverted attention from the trouble seeking Buck to himself. "It was mighty good of both of you to contribute to my birthday gift."
"Well, you're welcome, JD," replied Nathan.
"Five years is deserving of something special my friend," said Josiah with a smile, Buck's jibes were forgotten, at least for the moment. "There was a time I wasn't so sure this day would come to pass."
The comment drew JD's eyes to Josiah's. JD knew what he was talking about. He had accidentally killed Annie three days before his second birthday here. After Annie died he'd had a hard time living with what he'd done and had decided to leave and go back east. He'd gone to the church to say good-bye to Josiah. Josiah had tried to tell him that the good he'd done during his time in Four Corners outweighed his one tragic mistake. Josiah had hugged him. The hug had felt good, the hug felt as if Josiah was trying to tell him he was still wanted here. Even so, JD had still felt the best thing to do was leave.
'Maybe it was meant to be,' he thought as more of Josiah's words echoed in his head. If he hadn't been on that stage, Achilles and his men might have succeeded in robbing it and likely would have killed everyone on board.
"Me either,' said Buck quietly drawing JD's attention from Josiah to Buck. Buck's eyes were dewy. JD knew Buck was thinking of something else - the time Maddie Stokes shot him. Buck had that same look in his eyes now that he'd had when JD woke up after surgery. Frightened, fevered, confused and in pain, he'd looked up at Buck and had asked him if he was going to die. Buck had stroked his sweat drenched forehead as he leaned in close and answered softly, "Not while I'm here, kid." He'd carried those comforting words into unconsciousness again. JD sometimes wondered if it had been a dream, except that every once in a while he'd catch that same expression in Buck's face.
"You know what else it means?" asked Nathan rhetorically. "It means we've all been together for five years, keeping an eye on this town and the folks hereabout, keeping the peace and watching each other's backs. I don't about you three but for me, it's been five years well spent."
"'Amen'; 'you said it'; and 'no argument from me'," were the replies as they raised their drinks in a toast.
They all turned at the epithet
Vin had pushed his way through the doors and was making his way towards the bar, leaving a trail of wet tracks on the floor. In fact the four men were astonished to note that the tracker was wet from head to toe.
"Damn Mule!" Vin spat out the words angrily. Inez gaped wide-eyed at him. Vin was not a prideful man but he was a proud man and not inclined to make a public spectacle of himself. Here he stood with long tendrils of wet hair dripping all over the bar. She quickly recovered and swiftly poured the wet tracker a beer.
"Is there someplace worse than hell? 'Cause if there is, I want to set a place ready there now for that no good piece of horse flesh I put up with."
"Problems with Peso?" asked Buck. Buck's voice was a little too silky for JD's liking. JD could tell that Buck was sizing up a new target for his teasing.
"No, no problem... no problem a good switching wouldn't cure!" grumbled Vin before scooping up his beer and squishing his way over to the table. His waterlogged boots were beginning to squeak. He set his beer on the table and sat down hard and suddenly, sending heavy water droplets in all directions.
"You want to tell us about it, Vin?" asked Nathan mildly, wiping water from the side of his face before taking another sip from his glass.
Vin took a long swig from his beer mug before setting it down hard on the table. It did nothing to calm the irate tracker. "I took that son of an ass out to the narrows at Silver Creek, with the heat l figured he'd enjoy the water. It's shallow there and the water runs fast and cold just like he likes it." The normally reserved man was unusually animated in his description of the events, gesturing with his arms as he spoke; he sent a fine spray of water this way and that, seemingly oblivious to the flinching of his friends as they are hit by flying water. "We took our time on the way back, no reason for hurry, too hot to hurry. I take the saddle off, I brush him down, I feed him some sweet hay, a bit of carrot and a bit of sugar I'd been saving and the moment my back is turned that ungrateful, miserable, devil's spawn pushes me into the horse trough!"
Buck snickered loudly.
"The horse trough, you say?" asked Josiah wiping his hand hard down over his mustache, mouth and chin trying to keep a sober face.
Nathan's shoulders were shaking with barely contained laughter. JD snorted once, twice, he couldn't hold any longer and suddenly burst out laughing. Once JD let go the other three lost the battle for control and the table erupted in raucous belly laughter.
Vin looked from man to man in dismay. He frowned and grumbled, "All of you are no better than that damn mule," as he cradled his beer in his lap and sank lower in his chair.
"I'm sorry, Vin," said JD in between gulps of air as he made a failed attempted to stop.
"Ya gotta admit it's not something you see everyday," said Buck before being carried away in another gale of laughter.
Whether Vin finally saw the humor in the situation or the laughter around him finally got to him, JD wasn't sure but he saw the corner of Vin's mouth twitch once, twice, then again before the tracker began to chuckle. A moment later Vin was laughing right along with them.
JD wasn't sure when he had arrived but suddenly Chris appeared beside the table. Hands on his hips, cheroot lodged tightly between his teeth, he waggled it up and down indicating his irritation as he took note of the group around the table.
"What's so funny?" growled Chris sending the cheroot to the other side of his mouth.
Buck made the first attempt to explain, "Vin..., Peso...," but the rest of the explanation lost out to another howl of laughter.
Chris squinted and looked at Vin. "Why are you all wet?"
Chris frowned; his question only seemed to spur the men around the table into a greater joviality.
"What the hell are you drinking?" he asked spying the glasses in front of Josiah and Nathan.
Chris picked up Nathan's glass of lemonade and sniffed at it suspiciously. "Lemonade?" he concluded in disbelief. His frown deepened as his irritation grew.
"JD! What the hell is so funny?" barked out Chris.
JD wiped the tears from his eyes with the backs of his hands as the laughter in general began to subside. "Well, Chris, Peso dunked Vin in the horse trough." Briefly, the laughter picked up with short sporadic bouts of giggling that died out into long winded high pitched "ahhhh's" as the humor of the story burned itself out.
"...that's what so funny?" asked Chris obviously less than impressed.
"Well, pard," began Vin as he stood. Leaning sideways he squeezed the last remnants of water of his long locks. "I guess you just had to be here is all."
Inez appeared at Chris side, "Whiskey, Senor?"
"A beer thanks, Inez."
"I'll have another," ordered Buck.
"One for me as well if the doctor will allow it," said Josiah casting his eyes sideways toward Nathan.
"Yeah sure and me too Inez," replied Nathan
"JD?" asked Inez looking in his direction.
"No thanks, Inez, I'm still working on this one."
"Quatro," said Inez confirming the order before leaving the table.
"Anybody seen Ezra?" asked Chris as he settled into the chair between Vin and JD.
"Not as yet," replied Josiah.
"He should be back from Tularosa sometime today," stated Buck.
"Likely the heat has slowed him down some," speculated Vin.
"...or a card game," suggested Nathan.
"Doubt it," mused Josiah. "He seemed pretty anxious to send Maude on her way. I suspect he'd travel through hell fire itself to put some distance between them."
"Can't say as I blame him," commented Chris quietly.
They paused and waited while Inez set the beer orders down, reflecting on how that beautiful, smart and talented woman seemed to glean a perverse sort of pleasure from wearing down her son.
"Thank you, darlin'," said Buck smiling broadly at the pretty barkeep.
"JD, to your health," toasted Josiah as he lifted his beer. "I hope this birthday is a memorable one and that you celebrate many more."
Salutations of "To your health," and "Happy Birthday," were repeated around the table before each man took a drink.
JD couldn't help but grin as he thanked them all before taking a drink of his own. Lord knew he loved these moments, when he felt like an equal among these men.
The mugs began to hit the table, "Ah, Chris, Vin, I want to thank you for the Swiss army knife, it's a mighty nice gift."
"You like it, do you?" asked Vin smiling widely.
"I sure do."
"You earned it, JD," said Chris quietly. "You've come a long way since you arrived here and I gotta say I'm proud to ride with you."
JD dipped his head at the rare praise, his eyes shining. Five years had done nothing to tarnish his hero worship of Chris.
"JD, you want to pass that thing over here?" asked Vin, "I'd like to take a look at all them gadgets that thing has."
"Sure, Vin," replied JD leaning across the table to hand the knife to Vin. "So far, I found a small knife as well as the big main blade, a tooth pick, tweezers, bottle opener, a screw driver and even a cork screw."
"Lookee here," declared Vin, "scissors!"
"What else has it got?" asked Nathan, leaning sideways toward Vin to get a better look.
The three older men sat back smirking and shaking their heads at one another over the heads of three engrossed in the gift, like kids with a new toy on Christmas morning.
"Let's see... a hook; I don't know about that," said Vin holding up and eying it critically. "It's too big for fishing and a mite small for anything else I can think of."
"What's this?" asked Nathan pointing. "Well, I'll be; a magnifying glass! That sure would come in handy for small print or even getting a better look at a wound. You know, in a pinch, that little blade is almost good enough for surgery."
JD couldn't help reflect on the fact that maybe Nathan wasn't a real doctor but he couldn't see how a real doctor could be more dedicated. Nathan was always looking for ways to improve his knowledge and his skills.
"Gentlemen," announced Ezra as he sauntered through the batwing doors. "Despite sweltering temperatures that would have a sane person considering escaping to Hades for relief, I have returned."
The six at the table turned and watched as Ezra approached them; a newspaper tucked under his arm, not a hair out of place, looking none the worse for wear after a long, dusty journey in extreme heat. He looked significantly more relaxed than he had when he had left to chaperone Maude to Tularosa to catch a north bound stage.
"Ezra, a man don't have the right to look as clean and collected as you do after such a long, hot ride," complained Nathan as Ezra drew up to the table.
"I took the liberty, sir, of a brief nap, washing up and a change of apparel upon my arrival earlier today," replied Ezra his gold tooth glittering as he smiled widely.
"So'd I," commented Vin, tongue in cheek.
"You see, by my example, Mr. Tanner here, has learned..." Ezra stopped suddenly taken aback as he got a good look at the disheveled state of the partially dry tracker.
"Senor Standish, your drink," said Inez as she served Ezra his standard.
"Thank you, my dear," replied Ezra as he slowly took his seat while staring at Vin. "Mr. Tanner, how did you come to be in such a state? You look as if you have been swimming with your clothes on."
Laughter rippled around the table and Ezra went from frowning at Vin to frowning at everyone else.
"What news have you brought us?' asked Chris.
"Pardon me," asked Ezra, still preoccupied the joke he was not privy to.
"The newspaper, what news is there?" asked Buck repeating the question.
"Ah yes, Gentleman, William H. Bonney is dead."
"Whoa, Billy the Kid is dead?!" blurted out JD as the rest at table suddenly sat up straighter at the news. Those closest reached for the paper. Josiah won, unrolling the paper and laying it flat on the table. The emboldened headline read: "How 'Billy the Kid' Was Killed"; a lesser headline below it: "Armed with Knife and Revolver, but Shot Down by a Concealed Sheriff."
"Three days ago, by Pat Garrett, in Fort Sumner." Ezra supplied a brief synopsis of the event.
"What's it say, Josiah?" asked Vin. As lawmen they were all anxious to hear the news. William H. Bonney was well known, notoriously so, for his part in the Lincoln County War. In April he'd been found guilty of first degree murder and had been sentenced to hang. He had escaped custody a short time later and had been at large ever since. The Four Corners regulators had instituted more patrols and stricter curfews as precautions.SPECIAL DISPATCH TO THE WORLD. Las Vegas, N.M., July 19 - Positive and reliable information reached this city yesterday morning by messenger in regard to the killing of the notorious "Billy the Kid" at Fort Sumner, 120 miles distant on the Pacos River last Saturday. Billy has been stopping with the Mexicans in the vicinity, disguised as one of them, ever since his escape from the Lincoln County Jail. Patrick Garrett, Sheriff of Lincoln County, has been on his track for some time. On the day mentioned he arrived at Fort Sumner, having been given a clue by some Mexicans. He had to threaten their lives in order to get them to divulge the "Kid's" whereabouts. About 12 midnight Sheriff Garrett entered the room of one Pete Maxwell, a large stock-owner, residing at the fort and supposed to have knowledge of the fugitive's exact whereabouts. Garrett had not been in the room over twenty minutes when the "Kid" entered in his stocking feet, knife in hand, ostensibly for the purpose of buying some meat. He immediately observed Garrett crouching at the head of the bed, and asking Maxwell what that was drew his revolver. Maxwell made no answer but proceeded to crawl towards the foot of the bed. Had he answered, giving Garrett's name, Billy would have killed him at once, as he is a dead shot. Billy moved slightly, getting into the moonlight then shining in at the rough window, and Garrett, recognizing him, fired, the ball passing thought his heart. He fell backwards, his knife in one hand and his revolver in the other. Garrett, thinking him not dead, fired again, but missed. Had his first shot failed he would have been riddled with bullets, as the "Kid" is known to have been terribly desperate and very accurate in aim when in close quarters. His death is hailed with great joy throughout this section of the country, as he had sworn he would kill several prominent citizens and had already slain fifteen or eighteen men, The "Kid" is a native of New York City and his real name is McCarthy.
The coroner's jury returned a verdict to-day of justifiable homicide coupled with a statement that Pat Garrett deserved the thanks of the whole community for ridding the country of the desperado.
They all sat slowly back in their chairs having leaned forwarded to listen intently to Josiah's words.
A low whistle escaped from Buck's lips and a whispered awe-filled "wow" from JD's.
"At least that's one less trouble we can expect on our doorstep," said Nathan, his concerns always being how many and how badly people would be shot when someone like that showed up in town.
"Amen, brother," agreed the ex-priest.
"Like the newspaper says, I heard he was a real good shot." said Vin.
"He killed a lot of men for someone so young," said Buck as he took a drink.
"I heard once that he went up against Bat Masterson in a shooting contest," said JD as he reached for the paper to reread the article.
"They say he had a temper. Him being so young; it makes for a dangerous mix," said Chris as he re-lit a new cheroot.
"Of that I can attest," said Ezra.
That caught everyone's attention and they turned to listen.
"I had the most fortunate experience of meeting and playing against one John Henry "Doc" Holliday; a truly talented man in many respects, especially with cards. I had to withdraw from the game earlier than anticipated," a smile flitted across Ezra's face. "I lost my shirt. Some time later in the evening, I was witness to a subsequent game that included Doc Holliday and the late Mr. Bonney. Bonney was friendly and personable but he played cards as many inexperienced men do, impatiently, making rash bidding decisions and generally showing off in front of his opponents and the spectators alike."
"How'd it go?" asked Josiah.
"Not well, he was out in three hands. His extreme embarrassment caused him to lose his temper. He accused Holliday of cheating." Ezra leaned into the table, the rest caught up in the story followed suit. "Gentleman that he is, Holliday, tried to help the irate Mr. Bonney save some shred of dignity by suggesting they play another day, when Bonney's luck was better. Bonney would have none of it and reached for his gun as he stood." Ezra paused looked slowly from man to man around the table. "As quick as he was, Holliday was faster. Before Bonney's revolver cleared its holster, Holliday was standing with barrel of his weapon situated between Bonney's eyes, not one inch from the bridge of his nose. Billy smartened up rather quickly, considering the look in Holliday's eyes made it clear that Holliday had no qualms about dispatching young Bonney to the great beyond right then and there."
There seemed to be a general exhaling of breath around the table as everyone sat back in their chairs again.
"A prime example of misspent youth leading to a tragic end," said Josiah lifting his mug to take a drink.
"He didn't have no one to keep an eye on him; a sort of a guide," said Nathan pensively.
"It sure is a whole lot of adventure to fit into one short life," said Vin quietly.
"...and to think," said JD absently as he was rereading the account in the newspaper, "he was the same age as me."
They all reflected on the news and concentrated on their drinks for a moment. Then one by one they realized...
Ezra put his drink down, blinked, and looked up the young Sheriff with furrowed brows.
Josiah frowned and rubbed his chin thoughtfully for several seconds before looking up at the young easterner.
Nathan, paused, held out one hand and counted his fingers silently with his thumb. He frowned and repeated the action, coming up with the same answer he looked over at JD.
Buck, put his drink down and then frowned at it, he cocked his head to turn and look at JD quietly reading the paper beside him.
Vin was combing his fingers through the tangles of his long locks when he stopped suddenly and held both hands out flat in front of himself, palms up and stared at them for a moment. He shook his head, stared again for a moment, then his eyes widened and he turned his head suddenly to look at JD beside him.
Chris had just placed his beer mug back on the table and put the cheroot back between his teeth when his eyes shot up to stare across the table at their youngest. The cheroot in Chris's mouth suddenly shot to the other side of his mouth and then back again. Then he made an irritated low angry noise under his breath.
It was that feral noise from Chris that finally got JD's attention. He looked up to find the other six staring intently at him their expressions, save for Chris', were of varying degrees of confusion. Chris's expression was angry.
"What?" asked JD blinking questioningly back at them.
"JD, as I recall," began Ezra, "five years ago I was interrupted in the middle of my morning ablutions when Mr. Wilmington "escorted" you into the Seminole Village, at which time you set about trying to convince Mr. Larabee that you should stay and take part in the upcoming hostilities. I remember distinctly because you declared somewhat loudly for all to hear that you were "eighteen years old".
Buck set his elbow on the table and turned to face him just about square-on. "Kid, just now you said Billy the Kid was the same age as you, twenty-one. Now I haven't had as much schooling as you but..."
JD's eyes grew large as he realized what he'd just let slip. He rose suddenly but Chris was just as quick standing in front of the young man and then deliberately backing the kid up against the bar.
The black clad man stood nose to nose with the young easterner. The cheroot clamped in his teeth; his eyes bore menacingly down into the youngster's.
The JD returned the cold gaze steadily. Despite the fact his knees were knocking, he was determined to stand his ground. "I know you must be disappointed in me, Chris..."
Chris interrupted him, with a growl, "Disappointed don't begin to cover what I'm thinking right now."
Buck rose from his chair and stood to Chris's left, Vin appeared to his right. Ezra, Josiah and finally Nathan joined them to loom threateningly over the lone young man.
JD's gaze traveled from face to face as he looked up at the six men above him. "I, I can explain," he stammered.
"You've got ten seconds," rasped out Chris from around the cheroot.
"I wanted to join you. I wanted so much to be a part of what was going on, that it hurt. You'd said no to me twice already, I knew that if I told you I was only sixteen, there was no way in hell you'd let me stay."
"Damn straight!" spat out Chris.
"So you lied to us, JD? You lied to me?" The hurt look on Buck's face was almost more than he could bear.
"JD..." was all Vin could get out, the expression of betrayal on his face tore at JD's very soul.
"God forgive you, John Dunne, but I don't know if I..." Josiah's voice trailed off as the big man turned away.
"Josiah, please don't...," he begged.
"JD, how could you? All this time... You never said nothing." Nathan shook his head and he, too, turned away.
"Nathan, nooo," he said reaching one pleading hand toward the healer.
"Mr. Dunne, I had counted you among my friends. Mother was right; never allow one's self to get too close."
"Ezra... Please, you gotta understand..."
Ezra's hand went up to cover his eyes as he turned his back on the youngster.
Vin shook his head and dropped his chin to his chest and he, too, turned his back on him.
"Vin!" JD cried out to his friend plaintively. He turned at looked at Buck. "Buck, I'm sorry, I just wanted to stay..."
Buck had one hand pressed hard against his mouth. Tears gathered in his eyes as he shook his head before turning and walking back to the table. His back toward JD, he hung his head and leaned down heavily on the table with his other hand. He looked all the world like a beaten man.
JD put his hands to his head, he didn't know what to do, they were turning their backs on him, they would send him away. After everything they'd been through, they were kicking him out because of one small lie, five long years ago.
"All we ever had going for us, JD, was trust; in all the gunfights, in all the brawls, against the ranchers, the bushwhackers, and the thieves, murderers, and cutthroats, the only thing we ever really had going for us was the trust we had in one another. Now that trust is gone."
"Aww, Chris, please, it was just one little lie. Please Chris, not like this," as he pleaded JD was working hard to hold it together; he was watching everyone and everything he loved in this life disappear before his very eyes. "Wasn't any part of the last five years worth something?"
"JD, you know what you have to do." Chris's expression was granite
JD hung his head; hot tears sprang into his eyes. He bit his lip to fend the tears off before raising his head. He made his way over to Buck. Putting a hand on Buck's shoulder, he could feel tremors raking through the big man. JD's heart was breaking at the thought of Buck crying. "Buck, I'm so..."
A sudden spluttering noise had JD turning his head. Josiah, Nathan, Ezra, Vin all ducked their heads as they slapped hands to their mouths but instead of trying hold back sobs of disappointment, it looked like they were trying to keep from bursting with laughter. Even Chris' stone-like expression was beginning to crumble as the corners of his mouth twitched with barely contained mirth.
Buck turned beneath his hand and let go a huge howling guffaw. The rest of them could no longer hold back and the room exploded with howls of laughter. JD stood stunned by the sudden turn of events. It hit him like ton of bricks; instead of being upset with him they were pulling his leg!
The relief at not being turned out because he's lied about his age turned quickly to anger. 'The bastards, they weren't upset about the lie at all!'
Buck was now literally lying on his back on the table, helpless with laughter. JD retrieved Buck's hat from the peg on the wall and hit him with it, several times. Buck was so helpless; he could barely raise his arms to fend off the blows. Then he took after the others with the hat, except Chris, all of them unable to do no more than duck away under the flurry of swats.
Between the sudden emotional shock followed by the sudden wave of relief after he realized that they were teasing him and the exertion in the extreme heat, it took only a minute before JD dropped into his chair exhausted. He looked around at his friends as they continued to laugh at his expense. He couldn't help it, he began to laugh as well, because the only reason they were teasing him was because he was now and had always been "one of them".
Feedback is always appreciated:
Artistic license taken; according to Wikipedia, the Swiss Army Knife was not available for commercial distribution until 1897.
The newspaper article from "THE WORLD: NEW YORK Wednesday, July 20, 1881" is copied word for word from historybuff.com.
The card game between Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid is a rumor only, one of the many tales surrounding both men. The incident described here is pure fiction.