Disclaimer: The boys are the property of MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy Entertainment. I do not own them or make money from them but if I did own them I promise I would share.
Characters: Old West. Vin, Sarah, Adam, Chris. Pre-series.
Summary: Follows The Brave ( I do eventually write sequels! )
Mexico circa the 1870's
Vin Tanner was reassured by the sonorous snoring issuing from the bunk below his. His hands entwined behind his head, Tanner stared through the bars of the prison cell's tiny window at the fiery red sky. It wasn't the first time he'd found himself in a Mexican jail and as long as he kept doggedly pursuing bounties across the border into Mexico, bounties with enough gold to bribe a corrupt judge in their pockets, then he guessed that it wouldn't be his last taste of unjust incarceration.
He normally accepted it as part of the bounty-hunter's lot and served his penance peaceably. Except tonight a terrible sense of foreboding gnawed away at him. He was urgently needed somewhere else. Somebody far away was in dire need of his singular skills. His God given talent for killing anything he aimed at with a single shot from his long gun.
How could he be so sure? Because he had felt this same sick feeling in the pit of his stomach on at least two previous occasions. A tally of several men had already died as a consequence and this time at least four men threatened the lives of two innocents.
In this instance the avenging angel that was Vin Tanner would not be there to help them in their darkest hour. He closed his eyes, certain that he smelled the smoke and flames so far away and silently prayed that he might be proved wrong. A single tear ran down his stubbled face as he remembered...
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Years earlier not far from Eagle Bend...
Adam Christopher Larabee was five years old. In his opinion attaining this great age entitled him to sneak away from his mama's apron strings and play by himself in the soft mud of the riverbank. Perfect for the building of forts and castles with aid of Sarah Larabee's favorite wooden spoon, mud of this vital consistency could not be found anywhere else. Adam had carried out a detailed and painstakingly thorough survey of every inch of the land belonging to his pa, Christopher Adam Larabee, that had enabled him to arrive at this well-informed conclusion. The construction of a fort intended to provide protection for his valiant lead soldiers was not to be undertaken lightly. Mama, being only a woman, did not understand these weighty matters. Uncle Buck did understand and on handing over command of the regiment on Adam's birthday, he had extracted an assurance from Adam that he would carry out his solemn duty as the leader of his troops most diligently.
Adam raised his head from his important work and froze in place. He stared goggle-eyed at the swaying of tall grass across the river. It had only been the merest fleeting glimpse of an eagle feather that had caught his attention. An eagle feather tied to a scalp lock streaked gold by the sun.
Adam Christopher Larabee knew that this eagle feather signified danger for anyone but himself and his beloved mama. He knew it because in the carved wooden box of treasured possessions secreted under his cot, rested this feather's identical twin.
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The Comanche brave, Walks Again, had watched the small cabin for a total of three days. Never once scenting the smell of a man on the wind. Only the beautiful red-haired woman and the sturdily-built, fair-headed boy had occupied the small horse ranch for the last few days. Walks Again noted with a wry smile that even while going about her chores the woman was never more than a step away from the Winchester rifle.
Three men had arrived less than an hour ago to take up a vantage point just out of earshot of Walks Again's position.
"Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington are settled in at The Sandpiper saloon. After a good week horse-trading with the Army they won't be able to resist spending a little of that gold burning a big hole in their pockets on rye whiskey and cigars before heading back here."
"That the Larabee kid down by the river, Lige?" asked Jonah Davis.
"How many little kids do you think are roaming around here?" snapped 'Lige' Clinton, the self-appointed brains of the outfit.
"You never said anything about a kid, Lige. You said we could have our fun with the woman. Nothing about a little kid," Prescott Pooley glared at Lige.
"I said the lady in Ridge City is paying us to take the kid, you cloth-eared jackass."
"Why?" asked Jonah.
"Why what?" Lige looked skyward and asked himself why he had joined up with the two smallest brains in the territory.
"Why does the lady in Ridge City want the kid?"
"She don't want the kid. She wants us to take him and abandon him across the border in Mexico," explained Lige.
"Why?" asked Prescott Pooley. Lige's brief explanation leaving him no wiser.
"Is it for a ransom?" chimed in Jonah Davis, looking uncomfortable with the idea of kidnapping a child.
"No. The lady in Ridge City is having us take the kid to wreck Chris Larabee's life."
"Guess Larabee will be a mite forlorn," agreed Prescott.
"The lady in Ridge City is planning on the loss of the kid driving a wedge 'tween Larabee and his wife. Then, when they turn away from each other, she can have Larabee all for herself."
"Seems a mite complicated. Why don't she just let us have the Larabee woman? I'll do her in when I've done her, if you get my drift," offered Prescott Pooley with a disgusting leer.
"You ever been married up, Pooley?" asked Lige.
"I once wed a widow and be told that you can't ever match up to a dead spouse. No matter how bad a husband or wife they was before they died, the day after the funeral they turn into one of the blessed saints. Albert was a good provider, Albert never snored. My Albert never forgot my birthday or tracked mud into the parlor. I think the lady in Ridge City is onto something with this plan."
"I don't hold with stealing a kid away from his mama, Lige," Jonah shook his head. "Count me out."
"You got the ten dollars I advanced you?" demanded Lige.
"No," admitted Jonah.
"Then you're in."
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Walks Again snaked his way through the long, tinder dry grasses, a small rock in his hand. Barely able to keep the feral smile off his tanned face, he threw the rock.
Lige started at the noise. "What was that? Jonah, go take a look," he ordered.
Jonah was glad to go. He really did not hold with ill-treating a little kid but he wasn't blessed with enough brains to get out of this mess alone. Having already spent the ten dollars on working girls Jonah knew that Lige wasn't going to let him walk off the job still alive and kicking.
Jonah reached the small copse of trees without finding anything at all. Maybe they had startled a poor little coney or some such, decided Jonah, turning on his heel and immediately coming face-to-face with a wild savage.
"Hellfire!" exclaimed Jonah, confounded as to why no actual sound came out of his mouth. He mouthed a few more unintelligible words. Making about as much sense as a landed fish.
The Indian didn't belong around here Jonah was sure. There was some talk of the Army forcibly moving some Indian tribe onto a reservation near the town of Four Corners but so far it was all hot air. The Indian wore nothing but a long strip of cloth reaching from his waist to his knees and soft hide boots. His skin was tanned by the sun and the bands of leather on his arms showed off his lean, muscular build.
Two long braids of hair wrapped in some kind of animal fur, shell earrings dangling from wires in his earlobes, brightly colored beads and an eagle feather in his scalp lock barely held Jonah's attention because this Indian had the deepest blue eyes Jonah had ever seen.
"Scat," rasped the Indian, with a jerk of his head.
Jonah turned, stumbling and running away as fast and as far as his trembling legs could carry him.
Walks Again grinned, revealing white even teeth, before moving silently away and hunkering down in the scrub to wait.
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"What's keeping Jonah?" asked Prescott.
"Damn, I left my crystal ball back in town. How the hell should I know?" demanded Lige.
"I reckon he's run out on us."
"Jonah always had a streak a yellow in him," agreed Lige.
"We get to split that hundred dollars just two ways now?" asked Prescott eagerly.
"After I deduct my expenses," answered Lige.
Prescott glared at the back of Lige Clinton's shiny bald head as they made their way down the bank towards the river. The lady in Ridge City had promised to pay Lige the agreed sum once a newspaper report of the Larabee boy's disappearance made the front page of local newspapers such as The Clarion News. The Clarion was noted hereabouts for its accurate reporting. The editor, Stephen Travis, refused to print anything that he couldn't verify himself.
Prescott decided to relieve Lige of the hundred dollars before the other man had a chance to deduct anything. Lige Clinton would be the first man that he'd killed but he didn't think it would be all that different from killing a woman and he'd done that often enough.
Lige smiled slyly, as he made up his mind to ensure that Prescott Pooley didn't make it back from Mexico alive. Killing Prescott Pooley would take his tally into double figures but what the hell. The lady in Ridge City wouldn't balk at handing over the money to one remaining kidnapper. The crazy bitch's relentless obsession with Chris Larabee had made her deaf, dumb and blind to the rest of the world's comings and goings.
Adam felt safe enough to stay by the river. Sarah Larabee's tale of their rescue at the hands of the Indian brave, Walks Again, had long been one of his favorite bedtime stories. There was no doubt in his mind that a vicious predator stalked the undergrowth but he was certain sure that he himself was in no danger. He had a buckskin guardian angel.
"Kids have a fool habit of taking off like startled jackrabbits, you go left and I'll go right," ordered Lige. "We'll circle around and I'll grab him. Keep out of sight until I've got him but be ready in case he gives me the slip."
Prescott nodded and moved off at a crouched run. A hundred golden dollar signs shining in his mind's eye.
Walks Again wasn't surprised that the two men had split up and taken off in different directions. They really were making it all too easy for him.
Sensing that the other man wasn't happy with the prospect of stealing a child Walks Again had shown Jonah Davis mercy. Prescott Pooley could expect no clemency from his self-appointed judge and jury. Pooley squatted in the dense undergrowth watching as Lige homed in on the small boy contentedly engrossed in playing with his lead soldiers.
Raising both hands to his throat Pooley clawed in vain at the garrote Walks Again silently killed him with. Baring his teeth, Walks Again let the dead body slump to the ground. Moving quickly the brave circled around behind an unsuspecting Lige Clinton. Walks Again reached out to tap Lige on the shoulder. Startled enough to almost part company with his skin, Lige turned to face the brave. Glancing down Lige was surprised to see the brave's hunting knife protruding from his chest.
"Why?" rasped the brave.
"Money. Nothing personal. We was promised money."
"Never gave one." The kidnapper tried to think of something memorable to say but unfortunately Lige Clinton's last words were nothing more than a hideous gurgling noise.
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Adam squinted upwards as the shadow fell across his game.
Pleased that the boy showed no fear, Walks Again crouched down beside him. Adam didn't recall ever seeing such golden skin or so much of it. His own Pa and Uncle Buck generally turned bright red when working shirtless in the sun and then complained bitterly as their skin itched and peeled. He was envious, sure that his own Mama would never allow him to wear so little in the way of clothing. Adam stared at the patch of paler skin at the Indian brave's hip and realized that was probably where a hunting knife usually rested. He didn't like to imagine where that knife might be now.
"Run back ta the cabin an' tell yer ma they came ag'in. Tell her I's got 'em this time but they ain't gonna give up comin'."
Adam nodded and mustered his soldiers.
"Brave little man," drawled Walks Again, ruffling Adam's hair.
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Sarah listened to Adam's story and hugged her brave boy. For the last three days she'd had a feeling of being watched. No, a feeling of being watched over. She didn't hesitate to believe that Walks Again had saved them once again.
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"I'm a blame fool!" announced Chris Larabee, standing facing his beloved wife while more than a little pixilated thanks to the prodigious amount of pure rye whiskey he'd imbibed in Eagle Bend.
"You'll get no argument from me," chuckled Sarah, closing the cabin door on the setting sun as her husband swayed somewhat dangerously on the braided rug in front of the hearth.
"I have the most beautiful wife on God's green Earth and I'm still too stupid to come straight home to her instead of wasting valuable loving time drinking in the saloon with Buck."
"You both work hard all year breaking horses. When things go well you and Buck are entitled to cut loose in the saloon."
Chris stared at her. "What did I do to deserve such an understanding wife?" he marveled.
Sarah smiled at him indulgently, "All you ever had to do was fall in love with me."
"I did. And with all my heart I do. How can I prove it?"
"How about a little 'loving' time?" suggested a very amused Sarah, with a lustful wink at her handsome husband.
He picked her up and carried her into the bedroom as she began unfastening the buttons on his bright red shirt.
Later, just before she fell asleep encircled in his arms, she decided not to tell him about Walks Again's second visit. It would only cause him to worry about leaving her and Adam alone at the ranch. She had the Winchester rifle and over the years she'd become a pretty good shot. She'd keep Adam close by her side while she worked and woe betide any stranger that approached the cabin intending to do them harm.
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Years later on a ranch outside Red Fork...
Vin Tanner entered Ella Gaines' trophy room and stared at the scattered items. Twice he had saved a woman and child from Ella's insane madness. The third time he had been unable to aid them and it still stabbed him in the heart to know that Sarah and Adam had died horribly while he was imprisoned in Mexico.
Walks Again rested his hand on his sawed-off Winchester and swore that he would help Chris Larabee hunt Ella Gaines down and together they'd make her pay...
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