Pulling Punches

by KT

Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.

Note: Betaed, edited and added (quite wonderfully) to by LT.

The town was called Tripton and he was called Henry and he was taller than Buck, bigger than Josiah, with hands larger than Nathans. The seven of them had been sent by the Judge to a town called Glen Coe, where they were to sort out the place after three sheriffs in a row had been killed. It hadnt taken long to identify a local rancher trying to drive off settlers in order to steal their water rights. Any one who got in the way was disposed of. With the rancher in the hands of the US Marshalls and a new sheriff in place, they had headed home.
When Pony threw a shoe, they were forced to stop at the closest town with a blacksmith - Tripton. It so happened that it was Saturday and it was the weekend of the annual town fair. Henry had come to town with another man, his manger or promoter or handler, Ezra wasnt sure of the correct terminology, to make money. He was a boxer and if anyone could climb into the ring with him and stay there and on their feet for just 5 minutes, they would win $200. Of course, you had to pay out $5 for the privilege.
There were no lack of takers, over a hot, summer weekend. It was a temping offer and a welcome diversion. The ring had been set up, out of the sun, in the livery barn.
Ezra was happy, since he was the only person running a book on the fights. It was easy really. At five dollars a go for a $200 prize, the manager, one Horace Slater, had to be banking on his man out lasting at least 60 or more fighters in a row to make at least $100 profit. However, from the look of Slaters clothes, gold watch and fancy snake skin boots, they were making more than that. None the less, there were plenty of farmers, cow hands, prospectors and even transiting stage passengers who thought they could last five minutes. And there were even more who reckoned they knew who could make it and bet on the out come. Ezra was happy to take their money. Was it his fault they couldnt do the math?
By Saturday night, there were precious few takers left, and Henry and Horace retired to the closest eatery for supper. Henry sat himself down, in front of a plate of food so vast, that it would have defeated even Vin.
The seven men from Four Corners sat down to their own meal and watched him. “Why dont you take him on?” JD asked Josiah.
“What makes you think I can last longer than all the others?” Josiah asked as he tucked into his bowl of stew.
Well, just look at him. Yeah, hes much younger,” JD paused when six men all glared at him. “Let me finish, hes wore out from fightin and the heat. Josiahs just as strong and hes fresh and got a lot more experience. Id bet that the preacher could take him.”
Its more than half a years salary,” Vin pointed out, his mouth full of enchilada.
“I could do a lot to the church with that much money.” Josiah looked over at his potential opponent, that much food was bound to slow a man down right?
With darkness falling, lamps were lit around the barn as Josiah, stripped to the waist, stepped into the ring.
“Reckon he can make it?” Chris asked Buck quietly.
“Who knows? Josiah is a wily one, thats for sure, but this guy has a longer reach and hes quicker on is feet.”
“Mmm,” Chris responded enigmatically.
“No,” Buck stated flatly.
Chris just grinned at him.
“If Josiah doesn’t take him?”
Just then Josiahs not inconsiderable bulk came crashing through the ropes to land beside them.
“Ouch,” he commented, rubbing his jaw as they stared down at him.
By now, Mr Slater was standing in the ring, taunting the crowd and belittling their efforts and Josiahs in particular. He then upped his prize to $300, producing a roar from the crowed and then a gasp. Buck pulled Josiah to his feet as they tried to see what was going on. In the corner of the ring, Vin was taking Nathans shirt from him, while JD cheered wildly.
“Well, who do we have here?” Slater asked with exaggerated wonder.
“Nathan Jackson,” Nathan introduced himself.
“Well, Nathan Jackson, are you sure you want to be here?”
“I am.”
“You think you can take on a real man?” Slater smirked at the crowed, egging them on.
“Real man?” Nathan asked.
A white man.”
“You refusing to take my money? You saying he wont fight me?”
By now the room was hushed, waiting for Slaters response.
“Well, I wouldn’t, but Henry can speak for himself.” Slater turned to his fighter. “Well.”
“Hell, Ill fight any Negro! Aint one of them can beat a real white man,” he drawled in a deep southern accent, that Ezra placed in Alabama.
This drew a cheer from the crowed.
Buck took a step closer to the ring. “Yes,” he stated, so quietly that only Chris could hear him.
Nathan lasted longer than anyone else. Henry came at him again and again, but he held him off, even getting in a few good blows of his own. Then, with just twenty seconds to go he stumbled, in a flash, and with speed that belied his size, Henry had him on the ropes and then over them.
The response from the crowed was immediate. Until now, they had always cheered the challenger, but now they cheered the champion, and they were just lapping up Slaters repulsive, raciest boasting at Nathans expense.
“Here.” Buck’s sudden appearance in the ring took both men by surprise.
I beg your pardon?” Slater asked.
“Five bucks.” Wilmington held out his entrance fee. “I want to fight him.”
“Buc…” JD began, trying to stop his friend from getting hurt, but Chris put his hand on the lad’s shoulder and pulled him back.
“Is this really wise?” Ezra asked.
“He don’t need to be doing this on my account,” Nathan insisted as Josiah helped him to his feet.
“He needs to do it,” Chris told them all. Ezra?”
“Mr Larabee?”
“Any one wants to bet against Buck, you take their money – but you share the profit with him.”
Ezra stared at Chris for a long second, then tipped his hat and smiled, gold tooth glinting in the lamp light.
“You sure about this, Cowboy?” Vin asked.
“Did I ever tell you how I met Buck Wilmington?”
“In the war?” JD asked.
“Nope, was just before that. He was that guy up there in the ring, he was the man to beat. And you know, he looked so young and pretty back then, everyone thought they could beat him. I should know I was one of them. Id been a fair few brawls by then, always come out on top, so cocky idiot that I was, I thought I could out last him. He took me out with one punch; one minute I was in the ring the next thing I knew I was on the my back one punch, so fast I dont think the bell to start the fight had even stopped ringing. It was his last fight of the night; he pulled me up, slapped me on the back and offered to buy me a drink.” Chris couldnt help but grin, but then his smile faded. “He made a fortune that summer until …” he stopped, not sure it was his place to continue Bucks story.
“Until what?” JD asked.
Chris turned to look the lad in the eye. He had started this tale and he decided he should finish it. Soberly, he answered, “He killed a guy. Hit him in a fight, he fell down unconscious, never woke up again, died the next day.”
“Ah Hell,” Vin muttered.
“Yeah, poor farmer, wife, two kids, one on the way, that was why did it, not for the bragging rights, he really needed the money. Buck gave them all his prize money, and swore never to fight in the ring again.”
Nathan looked horrified. “He doesnt need to do this for me, I can take it. Cant say as I like it, but Im used to it.”
Chris looked over at Nathan. “He knows, but you know Buck, once hes been pushed too far, there is no holding him back.”
“But can he win?” Josiah asked. “Because that boy sure can hit.”
“So can Buck, you’ve seen him.”
“All due respect, Chris, but youre a lot smaller than him,” JD pointed to Henry as he and Buck waited in opposite corners for all the bets to be placed.
“He pulls his punches,” Chris admitted to them.
“Who does?” JD asked, clearly not following.
“Buck does,” Chris clarified.
“Really?” Nathan asked, glancing at Buck, who hadn’t even bothered to take off his shirt.
“Unless he’s fighting for his life, he always pulls his punches.”
Just then the bell rang and the fight began. It was a quick fight! Henry was good, no point denying it, but he was both over confident and tired. Buck read his attack easily, dodged it and landed a single upper cut under his opponents chin. Henry staggered back, his legs shook, then turned to jelly and he fell down, sitting almost bewildered on the floor.
Buck stalked past him, ducked under the ropes and strode over to where Slater stood watching, equally stunned. Wilmington loomed over the man, jabbing him in the chest so hard with his finger he began to stagger back with each impact.
“You ever think of coming to a town called Four Corners.” By now the man was backed up against the side of the barn, but that didnt stop the jabbing. “You think again and keep on riding, you got me?” Buck snarled.
“Got it,” Slater agreed nervously.
With that, Buck straightened up and stalked out of the barn, the crowed scattering before him. His friends turned and followed him, all but Ezra, who walked up to Slater.
“Mr Wilmington’s winnings, $300 I believe?” he demanded.
Outside the barn, five rather stunned and slightly nervous men followed the victor out. Buck strode purposefully until he was standing in the middle of the street. Suddenly, he stopped, lifted his arms, turned and smiled, his teeth easily visible in the moonlight.
“Damn I enjoyed that!” he exclaimed.
The five men all visibly relaxed.
“I’d forgotten how much fun it can be,” Buck continued. “Now I aint saying Im gonna start fighting again, but that guy was just asking for it….” He was now right in front of Chris. “And it made me feel young again.”
“Been feelin’ youre age, Stud?” Chris asked.
“Not as much as you, Old Dog, but I aint 18 no more, thats for damn sure.”
Ezra arrived, prize money in hand. “To the victor the spoils,” he announced, holding out the wad of notes.
Buck slapped Ezra on the shoulder. “Thanks Hoss.” He then divided the money into three smaller bundles, handing one to Nathan and one to Josiah. “Make sure you do good with it.”
Nathan looked at the money and then back up at Wilmington. “This is too much! You won this, not me.”
“I ever paid you to fix me up?” Buck asked.
“Well no, I would never…”
“Just think of it as a debt paid and a deposit made.” Buck turned to Josiah. “Can’t say as Im much of a church goer, but I reckon every town needs a church. Id far rather it was you than some do gooding pious type, who will turn folk away cause their face dont fit.” He looked Sanchez in the eye.
Everyone is always welcome in the house of God,” Josiah told him with conviction.
“In that case, I want a drink, but not in this shit hole of a town!”
“Then I suggest we take some of your winnings and acquire some supplies.” Naturally Ezra never considered offering to use any of the money he won taking the bets. “I believe we passed a rather pleasant looking creek on our way into town?” He looked at Vin for conformation.
Tanner nodded.
“Good plan,” Chris agreed. “Vin, take Nathan and JD, and scout out a camp site. JD come back here when you know where it is. Josiah, go with Ezra and buy some beer and whiskey. Me an Buck will head over to the chow house and collect something to eat.” Ezra turned to follow Josiah, but found he was restrained by Chris hand on his shoulder. “Havent you forgotten something?” Larabee asked.
Ezra looked at him, his face a picture of incomprehension and innocence.
“Standish,” Chris snarled.
“Oh, yes, of course.” Ezra pulled out a wad of notes and peeled off about a third, holding them out to Buck.”
“Half,” Chris told him firmly.
With a look approaching genuine pain, Ezra handed over half his winnings.
“Thanks Ez, right generous of you,” Buck commented, tucking the money into his pocket with a grin.
“Generosity had nothing to do with it,” Ezra muttered as he was finally released by Chris.
With the others all dispatched to their various missions, Chris turned to his oldest friend.
“You okay – really?”
Buck was still grinning. “Yeah, I really am. Reckon Ive been hanging on to that ghost for too long, needed to let it go.” His smile faded a little as he looked at Chris. “Something you might wanna consider.”
“Maybe, but not yet.”
Buck just shrugged and turned toward the restaurant. “Come on; lets see if they have any fried chicken and pie. Im in the mood for pie, apple, maybe peach or blueberry.”
Chris shook his head and followed his old friend. Sometimes life was good, even if you still had your ghosts.
The End