Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em damnit!
Summary: Law enforcement has never been a simple 9-5, highly paid career.
Notes: Happy 14th anniversary, boys!
Thanks to blackraptor for this awesome M7 archive that keeps our stories safe, and accessible.
"Stage leaves in five minutes folks all aboard!"
The cry from the driver's seat of the former Butterfield, now Wells Fargo stagecoach, heralded the imminent departure time for those looking to escape the little frontier town of Four Corners.
Leaning against a support post on the boardwalk outside the jailhouse, JD Dunne watched the town go about their everyday business. Folk scurried or strolled across the street and between stores, while children passed by him skipping and munching on apples. Clarion editor Mary Travis handed out the week's paper, often engaging in conversation with those who stopped to spare the time. All pretty routine, so - what was it that felt off and caused the hairs on the back of his neck to stiffen?
The young sheriff swallowed against a suddenly dry throat when the stagecoach pulled out to reveal a man sitting across the street from him, who had been obscured by the carriage. JD shivered a little at the cold stare. He hadn't even been looking that way, and now it was the man's scrutiny that prompted the youth to glance around further and notice several other unfamiliar faces dotted around.
Resting his right hand on his gun, JD stood straight. Even his inexperienced butt could sense that trouble was brewing. So intense was his focus that he jerked slightly when a hand squeezed his shoulder. A sideways glance revealed six men in line with him.
"We see 'em," gunslinger Chris Larabee said softly.
"They goin' for the stage?" Vin Tanner, ex-bounty hunter, drawled.
"Bank?" the town's ladies man, Buck Wilmington questioned.
"Maybe both," Chris rasped. "There's enough of 'em."
JD felt his stomach flip. 'Shoot, just how many would it take to pull off both jobs?'
"Any plans come to mind?" former preacher, Josiah Sanchez, pushed.
"Preferably without an undue amount of gunplay," Southern gambler Ezra Standish interjected.
"That'd be real helpful," Nathan Jackson the town, and categorically the group's healer, rounded.
JD cursed the giggle that erupted. A quick, uneasy glance along the line of men earned him a wink and a grin from Buck and JD felt a little relieved, though he wasn't really sure why.
"JD?" Barely moving his head, Chris's gaze moved to the boy next to him.
"That there fella on his horse in front of the livery I seen a wanted poster that looks kinda like him."
"Name?" Vin asked.
"Burkett, I think."
"'Bucktooth' Burkett?" Chris muttered.
"Uh, yeah. Sounds about right," JD agreed.
"Vin?" Josiah probed.
There was a pause. "We got trouble."
Chris sighed, and nodded. "JD, go wire the Judge. Boys let's take him in."
Despite instantly obeying, JD was disappointed he wouldn't be joining the others in taking the outlaw into custody. He picked up his pace. 'Maybe if he hurried '
"In a rush, boy?"
In the few seconds that JD left the boardwalk and before he reached the opposite side of the street, Burkett had urged his horse right next to him. Standing in the street, JD squinted up at the image hovering over him.
"Don't see that's any concern of yours, mister." JD quickly realized Burkett's positioning of his horse had effectively cut him off from the other six peacekeepers. He wondered if they, too, could see the man's hand resting on the butt of a side-iron.
"Well, I figgered you " he jerked his head back toward the jail. " And your little 'posse' over there watching me and my friends kinda makes it my concern."
JD huffed out a nervous laugh. "We're the law here, we watch everybody." He saw the man draw his gun.
"Well, maybe I don't like it."
A shot rang out and his gun flew violently from Burkett's bloodied fingers. As he squawked out in pain, and his horse pranced nervously, JD could see his friends had already separated. Catching movement from every shadow, JD did the first thing that came to mind. He didn't duck into cover; he grabbed the injured man's leg and the back of his hide vest and yanked him clean off his horse
and straight down on top of himself.
Even as JD was moving to cross the street, the other regulators were mentally picking their spot to fight from. Vin was eyeing up the top of a building; Josiah, a water trough. Ezra wondered if a nearby doorway would make sufficient cover, while Nathan noted every bullet- riddled piece of timber and realized that nowhere was truly safe.
Chris was about to walk directly toward Burkett when the combination of the man moving his horse forward, and Buck's strangled yelp at events unfolding caused him to curse. He watched as JD was enveloped in the mounted man's shadow. 'Damn'.
Buck's gaze remained on his young friend. He was grateful Chris sent JD to wire the Judge, seeing as it was likely about to get rough; but he intended to watch until JD was safely behind the door of the telegraph office. His relief was short lived and his heart constricted when JD's form disappeared behind Burkett's steed.
Buck knew he'd made some kind of noise, but there was no time for recourse as dangerous men leaked from doorways and shadows and each regulator drew his gun.
Slamming his mare's leg into its holster, Vin melted into the shadows, and with the grace of a mountain lion, scaled the rear of the nearest building via ledges and damaged wood. Seconds later, and only a little sweaty and out of breath, his targets were picked, and the rifle he'd slung across his back was now poised for action.
Ezra took fast steps toward the Saloon's batwing doors. Pardoning himself to anyone who attempted to venture through them, he positioned himself behind one door, slid a gun from its hip holster, and checked the chambers for bullets. He then removed a gun from a shoulder holster, and did likewise. With a glance out into the street, he gently patted the Derringer rig nestled under one jacket sleeve, and braced himself for the imminent gunplay.
Josiah's duck and roll took him behind a water trough a few feet away from his original position. Happy enough with his location, he too checked his gun, and fed its chambers bullets while he still had time. He glanced around and nodded to himself when he became aware of where his friends were situated.
Nathan barely made it to an alley before the first bullet punched a new hole in the wall he had just been standing in front of. His eyes scanned the street to locate the threat, and he was shocked to learn just how many men there were. Comforted by the fact several regulators were positioned, ready and waiting, his anxiety rose when he realized that actually, three of them were nowhere near safe and his bag was in the clinic.
Buck's long strides set off toward the heap that was Burkett and JD, while Chris pointed his gun and fired at any man who dared to raise a side-iron or rifle against him. Whether oblivious to, or very aware of but ignoring the rifle shots picking off advancing outlaws, the two old friends calmly walked and fired in order to reach Burkett. Friendly six-shooters barked out covering fire at gunmen coming from every angle. A later discussion between the seven would fail to uncover whether the pair were simply confident in their fellow peacekeepers, or crazy as coots.
Landing in the dirt with an 'oof', JD felt his ribs bow and the air leave his lungs as Burkett's deceivingly heavyset frame landed on top of him and caused all around him to go dark. Realizing the man was merely blocking out light, JD heaved the bulk off himself, never once letting go of the vest in his hand. He should really have expected the punch to the side of his head, after all, the man must've been pissed at being hauled outta the saddle like that, but JD hadn't figured on the weight behind it.
Still reeling, and even now clinging to the man's vest, JD's body arched up at the knee to his gut. Undeterred, the boy grabbed and pushed at the supporting leg and felt satisfaction in seeing the man fall back on his butt and go down like a sack of flour. Having to let go of the hide waistcoat, or risk having his arm yanked out of its socket, JD staggered to his feet in preparation for the final, he hoped, assault. The gun aimed at his face was somewhat of a surprise, and he cursed inwardly on realizing his oversight, while wondering if he'd now live long enough to hear Buck's hollering over it.
His plans in tatters, and already accepting his fate, whether it be capture, or death, Bucktooth Burkett reached out and snatched up his gun from where it landed after Vin shot it from his hand. With lightning speed, he aimed it at the youth who was currently riling him. Spitting out blood from where he'd bitten his tongue when he initially landed, Burkett offered a bloody grin and cocked the hammer.
"You got at least five or six weapons on you," Chris warned, his gun cocked and ready as he approached. "But it'll be bullets from the two nearest you'll feel first before you get to firing that gun, Burkett."
"Maybe I'll just shoot his dumb head off his shoulders anyway," Buck threatened as he joined them. He didn't like the odds that the fella might just fire, and wanted to eliminate the possibility.
During the ominous pause that followed, JD's arm arced upwards and slammed the gun from Burkett's hand. Before the reeling man could recover, or gain his feet, the youth slapped a cuff on one of the outlaw's wrists.
"You're under arrest, mister." Recognizing he would struggle to lift the man off the ground, JD looked toward Buck and Chris.
Holstering their weapons, the amused pair hauled Burkett out of the dirt. Chris stared at JD, gave a small shake of his head, then escorted the outlaw to the jail. Buck steadied the slightly swaying youth, picked up JD's hat out of the dirt, and with a slap of the headwear to his thigh, set it onto JD's mussed hair.
"Son," Buck rasped. "Words fail me."
Rubbing his sore head, JD grinned. "That's gotta be a first."
They both jolted when Vin appeared next to them as if from nowhere. "Goddamnit, Tanner," Buck semi-growled.
Vin grinned. "Mite touchy there, Bucklin. Anyone'd think you'd just been in a gunfight."
JD chuckled, and again swayed slightly. Vin slapped him on the back. "Reckon we'll make a good lawman outta you, yet, Kid." His eyes twinkled with mirth at the boy's expression.
To the sound of a hand slapping at the sleeve of a wool jacket, and Buck's less than dulcet tones admonishing his protégé, the three headed toward three more grinning regulators.
"Kid, next time you pull a fella outta the saddle, be sure to move out of the way, first."
"Next time?" JD squeaked. "Who says there's gonna be a next time, Buck?"
The four spectators laughed. Vin squeezed JD's arm. "You keep thinkin' like that, Kid, and you might just stay in one piece."
While the other five rounded up the dead, dying, and wounded, Vin and JD joined Chris in the jail. Later, with a wanted outlaw behind bars, and a full jail, all seven enjoyed a celebratory drink on a job well done.
Despite, in a roundabout way, being offered the opportunity not to, JD took the night watch at the jail. It had been pretty quiet, save for the snores from the cells. On hearing a new noise, JD put down his dime novel and glanced across from his seat behind the jail's desk.
"Something you need?" he asked the intimidating, bucktoothed man standing and gripping the bars with his one good hand.
The man sneered. "Why's a runt like you watchin' over me? Ain't you scared of me, boy?"
JD straightened in his seat. "I'm here 'cause I wear a badge and no, I ain't scared of you." When Burkett suddenly rattled the bars, JD startled, then cursed inwardly for reacting.
Laughing, the man sat back down on his cot. "When I get outta here, you'll need more'n 'a badge to hide behind, Kid. I got me a lot of men waitin' just outside 'a this town, and they ain't goin' nowhere without me."
JD huffed, and hoped it sounded less nervous than he feared it did. "Yeah? And how'd you know they ain't already left?" He turned sharply at the jail door being flung open, and stared at the three armed men standing there.
"Ooh, let's just say I got me a gut feelin' boy," Burkett cackled at his own joke.
"Yeah? Well, so did we."
JD grinned at the appearance of Chris and Vin behind the armed men in the doorway. Disarming them and shoving the three inside, Buck and Josiah followed them in. JD snatched up the keys and tossed them to Chris. He then smiled at Burkett as he pushed the three outlaws into the cell.
"You were right, some of 'em ain't leaving without you."
Exiting the outer bars, Chris gestured for his men to step outside. As the group gathered round, Chris looked at JD.
"He tell you anything?"
"The fella boasted about having a lot of men waiting on him outside of town."
The group exchanged glances. Vin shrugged. "Iffen they're out there, they're well hidden."
Buck scratched his chin. "He might be bluffing."
"Or they may already be here," Josiah suggested.
"And the best place to blend in?" Chris asked.
"Saloon," the others chorused.
Larabee pointed to the jail. "JD, grab your gear, pull down the shades, and lock the outer door. Meet us in the saloon when you're done."
Nodding, JD went back inside.
Chris was now gesturing toward the Saloon. "Let's go see if Ezra and Nathan have anything for us."
JD checked the locks on the cells. He was just securing the outer bars when Burkett stepped forward.
"Be wise to visit the church, boy. You won't see this night through."
"Well, if I do go there, I'll be sure to say a prayer for you. You're gonna need one." He stared at Burkett's hideous teeth. Just as he was wondering whether the man was born that way, Bucktooth spoke again.
"You know how I got this way, boy? Chewin' on the bones of those I kill." He smiled. "Boy's bones are the sweetest."
With a teeny shudder, JD snatched up his hat and jacket, and to the sound of Burkett's cackles he headed out.
Standish gave a tight nod to the four peacekeepers joining him and Nathan. Keeping his eyes fixed on Larabee, he got straight down to business.
"The back two tables filled up around a half hour ago. There are numerous men seated around other tables occupied by townsfolk, and a further five at the bar."
"Around thirteen all told," Nathan added.
They all looked up when JD joined them.
"I took a look out back. There's horses behind the livery all tacked up and ready to go." He thumbed toward the doors. "If we're all in here, the jail's wide open. No locked door's gonna stop 'em."
Chris gave a tiny nod of his head. That's what I'm counting on."
Vin furtively glanced around. "Well, they got what they wanted. We're all in here. Why ain't they made a move? What are they waitin' on?"
"If I may," Ezra interjected. "One of their number is currently occupied with Dolly, one of the saloon girls."
Buck stood. "Where?"
Nathan pointed to a room upstairs.
Buck waggled his eyebrows and took the stairs two at a time.
Dolly Billings stared at the fully dressed man sitting in her room. Having paid for her time, all he wanted now was to sit quietly, which was most definitely a first. Having no idea he was watching the jail from the window, and worried she might be losing her appeal, she sauntered over to him and stroked his thigh.
"You're missing a good time, sugar OH!" The hard slap to her face caused her to reel backwards. As she touched a hand to her cheek, the door burst open.
"Dolly! You got a man in here ?" Buck's furious gaze lit on the man in the chair. "Why you " he grabbed his shirt and tossed him across the floor, eliciting a quick wink to Dolly before returning his attention to the man scurrying backwards across the dusty boards. "That's my girl you're meddlin' with!"
The crashes and bangs from upstairs had Burkett's men looking up and around as they considered what they should do while their temporary leader was being pounded. The reactions gave the regulators the information they needed as to who was against them. Chris stood.
"We have no intention of letting either Burkett or you fellas walk out of here, so we can do this the hard way " he eased his jacket behind his holster. " Or the easy way."
Guns were drawn and the click of hammers cocking sounded from every angle. The other peacekeepers stood, and Vin shrugged. "The easy way it is."
In the gloom of the cells, Burkett stood on hearing gunfire. He laughed and turned to the men with him. "Won't be long now, boys."
Like a well oiled mechanism, five peacekeepers drew their weapons and scattered. JD felt a hand shove against his back and he was suddenly under a table, and hatless. Looking out, he was confused; first as to who did it; then as to how the hell Buck had joined them so fast. He drew both his guns and picked out his targets with care, but the gunfire was fierce, and he could feel his fear for his friends go off the scale as familiar grunts, along with the sounds of gunshots, splintering wood, and shattering glass assaulted his ears. A burning pain in his thigh alerted him to the possibility that his cover might have been compromised.
From behind the bar, Josiah yelped when wood chips kicked up into his face. He barely recovered his vision in time to fire at the gunman moving in on Ezra. Seconds later, a ricocheting bullet entered his arm and rendered the fingers of his shooting hand numb.
Next to the piano, Nathan could see Josiah's dilemma, but each time he tried to reach him, gunfire pushed him back. Seeing one gunman attempting to escape, Nathan drew a knife from the sheath strapped to his back and threw it straight between the man's shoulder blades. Well, he figured, if the fella had turned tail to run after firing on them, a hit to the back was to be expected.
In the center of the room, Ezra spun around when he realized an assailant behind him had fallen to Josiah's bullet. He nodded to the preacher, but balked on seeing the man go down. Noting a gunman moving in on Josiah's position, Standish took a run and he and the man slid across and over the bar, disappearing to the other side with a crash.
Vin's mare's leg barked out in all directions. He momentarily ducked behind a pillar and while scrutinizing the battleground he pumped the lever of his shotgun to reload. A bullet whistled past his ear and a squawk from behind told him it had hit its intended target. He gave a tight grin toward the table with the bowler hat sitting on the boards underneath it and from where the speeding lead came from, but his gratitude was short lived when a searing pain in his shoulder took away his breath, and his ability to stay upright.
From behind an upturned table, Buck's fury was a great motivator for accuracy, but his gaze was occasionally drawn to the now overturned table where he had shoved JD. It became all too apparent that the splintering wood wouldn't last much longer, and he sent a glance toward Chris, who was closest. Hearing Vin's gasp, Buck stood, pivoted, and fired at the fella who had been the cause of the tracker's pain. Seconds later, apart from a sharp sting to the side of his head and the feeling of falling, Buck knew no more.
JD was about to go to Vin, but was warned to stay put by the floored Texan. The young sheriff watched his self-appointed big brother crash to the ground. Ignoring Vin's hollering, he dragged himself and his throbbing, bleeding leg over to the man's side. As if oblivious to the furor surrounding him, JD pulled Buck's inert form into his arms and did his best to protect him while trying desperately not to panic at how still his mentor was. He glanced around, and could see Chris looking at something. Larabee's steely gaze met his, and the boy saw his hero stand.
Chris watched his men, his friends, go down. When Vin slid to the floor, and as JD's gaze met his from across the room, the man in black stood. Catching the gun Vin tossed him; he fired with both hands at the few gunmen still upright and walked through the mêlée as if daring a bullet to find its black-clothed target. In no time, the only man standing was Larabee.
He glanced around, nodding to Nathan as he emerged from where Josiah had fallen. Squatting down, Chris examined JD's thigh, and the crease to Buck's head. After touching his fingers to Buck's throat, he smiled thinly at JD and nodded. It was only when Chris stood and went to Vin, that JD could see the droplets of blood on the floor and that the gunslinger was favoring his side.
The only word that seemed to register as Nathan darted from friend to friend was carnage. Having already checked on Josiah and ensured the big man was comfortable, he left Ezra, who was favoring his oddly-angled shoulder, with the preacher, and moved to Chris and Vin.
Ignoring his own wound, and as he cradled Vin close, Chris nodded to the healer when asked to hold a cloth firmly to the Texan's shoulder. A little probing by Nathan revealed the bullet wasn't in too deep, and that Vin really hated being poked.
Crossing to Buck and JD, Nathan smiled and patted the boy's arm. He handed JD a cloth and the easterner applied pressure to a semi-conscious Buck's bleeding head. Noting JD's oozing thigh stretched out at an angle, Nathan was relieved to see Mary run in with his bag. The healer left her with bandages to bind JD's thigh while he returned to Chris and dealt with the wound the gunslinger thought he hadn't noticed.
After offering a grateful Josiah a drink, Ezra scanned his battered friends. His liquid green gaze settled on Larabee. "A paltry dollar a day. Tell me again why we do this."
Attention turned to JD.
" We won."
There was a long pause and several exchanged glances.
Ezra nodded. "You make a good case, Mister Dunne."
The interaction was met with smiles, and then laughter. Mary shook her head. "You're all crazy."
"Just part of our charm, ma'am," Buck slurred out."
More laughter; and JD grinned down at his friend. "Buck! You're okay."
Buck squirmed. "Take more'n a scratch to take me down, boy. Now, help me sit up." His earlier fears were confirmed when JD squeaked in pain and went a ghastly shade of green. He got comfortable, checked out JD's wound, and nodded to the lad.
"I know," JD agreed.
"Good, always knew you was smart."
Nathan gave Chris a hand to get up and then helped him get Vin to his feet. Chris surveyed the mostly prone, soon to be prisoners. "We had a reply from the Judge yet, JD?" he asked once he'd caught his breath. He noted JD's gasp.
"Shoot, with all that's happened, I plum forgot to wire him." He winced, fully expecting to be bawled out, but instead, was met with more laughter.
Mary moved to the doors. "I'll see to it."
Chris glanced across at Ezra. "Looks like we got a full jail for a little longer. Sure will be earning that dollar a day."
"Marvelous," Standish deadpanned, while brushing at his clothes. "Forgive me if my euphoria appears diminished, but the recent gunplay has somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for displays of appreciation."
Sweaty and nauseated, JD shrugged. "Yeah, well, dollar, or no dollar, we still won."
A drained Vin nodded, and Chris looked proudly to each battle weary friend.
"Yeah, Kid, we did."
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