Author's Note: Tag for One Day Out West. Simple little piece; Buck contemplating his friendship with Chris after he declines to go with the others after Lucas James.
|"A friend is someone who is there for you when he'd rather be anywhere else."|
|- Len Wein|
Wilmington looked down at the young woman whose bed he was sharing. “I'm sorry, darlin', reckon my mind was elsewhere.”
The young working girl, who he only knew as Alice, sat up and reached out to run a hand over his chest. “Is somethin' wrong? Did I do – “
“It ain't you, girl. I'm just thinkin' about... just thinkin'.” He smiled, but knew it wasn't convincing. With a sigh, he added, “Just wonderin' if I did the right thing.”
“About earlier, when Mr. Larabee asked you to go with them after Lucas James?” She cocked her head and leaned forward to tease at his mustache.
“Yeah,” he reached up and took her hand, her fingers on his facial hair more annoying than anything else. Kissing her fingers, he said softly, “It's the second time I've ever turned him down when he needed me.”
Pulling the sheet closer around her, Alice asked, “You know him a long time?”
His brow furrowing as he calculated the years that had passed since he'd met Chris Larabee, he finally replied, “Goin' on twelve years, I think.”
Alice giggled, but didn't admit to the fact that she had only been four at the time. “That's a long time. How'd you meet him?”
“Well, let me think...” Buck stared at the ceiling, wondering the best way to begin the tale. “He'd just gotten outta this real bad relationship... said the woman was crazy an' wild. Now, he told me this 'cause the day I met him, he was sportin' a black eye, a split lip, and a hole in his arm. When I asked him about it, he'd just say that bein' with that particular woman was like walkin' on the edge of a knife. Pretty soon somebody was gonna end up bleedin'.”
“Was that the first time you turned him down?” Alice was a sweet young woman, but she wasn't known for her keen mind and she wasn't following his tale very well.
“No, that came later. A lot later...” He trailed off as he heard Chris Larabee's voice in his ear, with that soft growl that was deadlier than a rattlesnake, “My story's my own, Buck, not for you to tell.”
“Buck? You okay? Want me to go down and get another bottle?”
Managing a smile, he nodded, “Sure, that sounds good. Have 'em put it on my tab.”
“Okay.” Alice slipped into her robe and left the room.
Truth be told, he didn't really feel like drinking any more, but he needed a few minutes to himself. He needed to make a decision. Stay or go?
“Go, Buck, let's go!”
He blinked, hearing those words... that voice. Adam, impatient to ride faster. He could almost feel the slight pressure of the tiny boy's weight against him. Could feel the horse moving beneath him as he nudged it into a trot, Adam squealing with delight.
Then they were riding out, he and Chris, heading for Mexico where they would sell the horses that the two of them had broken. And he had done something that he would regret until the day he died. He
talked Chris into staying over another night, and they had returned to the burned out shell of a house. And the bodies of Sarah and Adam.
In all his life he had never heard a sound like the one that had come from Chris. Part animal, part agony, and it seemed to go on forever. And then... nothing. It was as if Chris shut off every emotion a human could feel. Except for rage. Rage was wrapped around him like a dark cloak.
He had ridden with Chris Larabee for months afterward. At times that meant backing the other man's play. Sometimes it meant patching his ornery hide when he refused to back down. Sometimes it meant putting him to bed when he'd drunk up all the whiskey in the territory. Not that he was ever sober. He poured whiskey in his morning coffee... or maybe it was coffee in his morning whiskey. He would go for days without eating, then all but fall on his face and sleep it off for a couple days.
And then had come that one, fateful day, when he said no.
In those months that followed the death of his family, Chris had quickly developed a reputation as a gunslinger. He wasn't very particular about who he went up against. One day they found themselves in a little tent city on the Mexican border; Chris was looking for a bottle and he was looking for a working girl. They had found both in the same tent, a large number that boasted a plank and barrel bar, five tables, and a piano player. None of it was in the best of shape but then, neither were they, having been on the road for over a week.
Larabee crawled into the nearest bottle, and he had quickly found a young woman to sit on his lap and feed him a line of bull about how wonderful he was. He just chuckled and pulled her down for a kiss before he began delivering his own line of bull in return. Across the table, Chris just rolled his eyes downed another healthy swallow of liquor.
He was just about to go to her tent with the working girl when a young man approached the table. He took one look at him and knew why he was approaching.
Chris barely moved; simply glancing at the young man, his face a mask of indifference, before turning his attention back to his drink.
“Chris Larabee! I'm callin' you out!”
“Go away, kid.”
“I ain't goin' away, I'm callin' you out. I intend to dust you; I'll do it right where you sit if you do not come outside and answer my challenge.”
“Boy, you'd do well to just shut up and walk away,” Buck suggested.
“Shut the hell up. I ain't talkin' to you. Just go back to your whore.”
“Boy, I'm tellin' you once more, apologize.”
“Or what? I sure as hell ain't afraid of you, and I won't waste my breath apologizin' to no whore.”
“You'd best fix your mouth to apologize to the lady!” He started to rise, ready to take on the young punk himself.
Heaving a sigh, Chris growled softly, “Sit down, Buck.”
“No, I won't sit and let this little bastard talk like that!”
Pushing the bottle across the table toward his old friend, Larabee instructed, “Say good-bye to the lady and make sure this doesn't get broken. If we're gonna do it, let's do it,” he said to the young man.
Buck watched as his oldest friend stalked from the big tent, duster slapping around him, the unknown man quick on his heels. Re-capping the bottle, he turned his attention back to the young woman as she began tickling his mustache.
“Are you goin' out there with your friend?”
Shaking his head, he said, “No. Chris can handle himself.” He couldn't help but think that this could be the time that the man lost. Larabee hadn't had a drink in days, and that tended to wear on him. Last night he had been seeing spiders and shooting at snakes that weren't there until he had no choice but to take Chris' Colt away from him. No, he wasn't in the shape to take on some young buck itching to make a name for himself. Chris was the one making the bold plays and risking his life over a single remark. Chris chose his own path; if he had wanted help, he'd have asked for it. Buck knew he was rationalizing and nothing more, but he didn't move from the seat.
The rest of the people in the tent were quickly pushing and shoving as they headed out to watch the gunfight. Soon he and the girl were the only two inside. Shaking his head, he said, “Well, shall we go to your tent?”
“Sure.” She looked disappointed, and he knew she'd rather go watch the gunfight.
Blowing out a breath that had his mustache dancing, he said, “Go on ahead, darlin'.”
Leaning down, she kissed him before she followed the crowd out of the tent. Resigned, he pushed himself up off the chair, grabbed the bottle, and scuffed toward the tent opening. As he reached it, he heard twin shots, fired off nearly simultaneously. There was silence for a second, and then everyone was talking at once. He pushed through the crowd just as the animated discourse was replaced by a unified gasp. He looked to find the young man sprawled out on his back, blood spilling from his mouth with a gurgle. He'd be dead in the next few minutes. What took his attention, however, was the sight of Chris Larabee, huddled over and sitting on his knees. “Chris!”
He reached his friend just as Larabee started to push to his feet. With one arm around the trembling back, and his hand cupped around a quivering arm, he helped him up. “How bad?”
“Bad,” was all Larabee said.
The tone of the crowd was beginning to turn, and he was shocked to hear several people suddenly claiming the dead man as a friend or relative. Stupidity was laying claim to the people who, just a few minutes ago, were excited at the prospect of watching two men try to kill one another. He groaned; they were no longer welcome in this town. Chris pushed away from him, and he let him go, but didn't move more than a foot away from his friend. As they got to the horses, the crowd was beginning to yell obscenities; he pushed Larabee up onto the back of his horse and then mounted himself. Sparing a quick look behind him, he saw that the people were all looking in their direction. It wouldn't be long before they'd be calling for a hanging. Beside him, Chris had his reins in hand, preparing for a hard ride.
And it had been a hard ride. Fortunately it wasn't a long one; most of the makeshift posse at their heels were full of liquor, and the afternoon sun soon baked the desire to continue pursuit out of them. Free from the angry men, they could slow down. As they did, he glanced at Chris' face, reading pain in the bloodless features. “We need to find somewhere to stop.”
Larabee didn't spare the breath to answer, but simply nodded. It was another mile before he spotted a place that would offer them shade and cover. Reining in, they moved to dismount. Buck hurried around his horse in time to catch Chris, who was close to collapse. With a firm but gentle touch he lead his friend away from the horses and settled him on the ground. Handing Chris the bottle he'd carried out of the tent, he went back and quickly untacked and wiped down the horses, hobbling them so they wouldn't go far. That taken care of he came back with their saddlebags and bedrolls. Dropping it all nearby, he knelt beside his friend. “Where'd he hit you?”
“Side,” Chris replied as he took a long draw from the bottle.
Shifting the other man's clothes, he found the long, deep gash along the lean side. Happily it had almost stopped bleeding. “Reckon you'll live.”
“Reckon. Look out.” Buck watched as Chris tipped the whiskey bottle and poured some of the amber liquid over the wound. He hissed in pain and then, cursed, “Shit!”
“Yeah, reckon that hurt. Let's get it bandaged up.” he untucked the man's shirt and soon had him stripped to the waist. As he worked, he said softly, “Sorry.”
“It don't hurt that bad.”
“That's not what I'm apologizing for. You shouldn't have been the one taking that snot nosed little bastard outside. It should have been me.”
“What are you talking about? He... damn!... called me out,” Chris hissed as he pressed a cloth against the wound.
“Yeah, and you were handling it just fine. If I hadn't lost my temper, you wouldn't have let him call you out, and you wouldn't be hurt.”
Chris shook his head, but didn't disagree with his assessment. But all he said was, “Forget it.”
Pulling himself from his musings, Buck sighed. He shouldn't have refused to go with Chris and the others. Yes, he was angry at his old friend for what he had done in the barbershop earlier. But if he was being honest, Chris was right. He had no right to tell Mary Travis about the man's past. It was his own to share, when and where he chose.
Climbing out of bed, Buck dressed quickly. He was just stomping on his boots when Alice came back into the room.
Disappointment on her face, the young woman said, “Buck? Where you goin'?”
“I've got to go. I was wrong... and I've been wrong like this once before.”
“But you might get shot or something!” She sounded sincere as she threw herself against him.
Disentangling himself, Wilmington said, “Sweetheart, a man could get killed any morning, putting his boots on. Now, I'll see you when I get back, okay?”
He was out the door before she could answer, but he was in a hurry. He needed to make certain that, this time, he had his old friend's back.
July 7, 2011