Main Character(s): Buck, Chris, Vin, Ezra
This was originally at a website that has gone away. I’d like to thank Nancy for posting it and thanks to Chris for having a copy – I had lost the story when my computer died.
The gangly ex-lawman hadn't been able to dispel the anger, and the way he slammed through the batwing doors showed it. Buck Wilmington had to admit that he and Chris Larabee, even during the good times had fought … had fought like … well, they could fight.
Yesterday had been no different. Larabee had been headed toward one of his moods. Buck knew that he had provoked the gunslinger when he saw the melancholy set in and his friend had started to spiral down emotionally. Buck had learned that if he could get the brooding widower to feel anything, anything at all - responsibility, friendship, even anger - it would keep him from sinking into the morass of "what-could-have-been’s" and "never-will-be's".
Okay, if Buck were being honest with himself, maybe he had jumped a little prematurely this time. But there was more to lose now that they had settled, at least temporarily, in Four Corners. And Larabee had just responded as Buck had wanted him to, as he always did. But that was the problem, wasn't it? This time Larabee had still been sober when he had said those things. In the past,
Wilmington could pretend it was the alcohol talking. But this time …
He'd gone out riding. He really didn't want to give as good as he got. Well, hell, that wasn't completely true either, was it? Damn Josiah and his "know thyself" sermon last Sunday. Because Buck did know what he was doing when he rode out. He knew the emotional jolt it gave Larabee every time he or anyone the gunfighter cared about would ride out after a fight leaving Chris to worry if he'd finally pushed too far. And Larabee was so completely Alpha male - just like in a pack of wolves - that he didn't even know what that feeling was. To Chris Larabee, he and Buck Wilmington were friends. And they should be able to say anything. What they'd been through and stuck with each other through should outweigh the words. And heaven forbid Chris Larabee sit down and try to figure out what he was feeling. It was obvious Chris's father hadn't thought that way and passed it down to his son in spades.
But Buck had been raised by women. Women who sat around and pondered on the ways of men and how to get the most out of them with the least effort. Men want to fight, with words or fists, and then it's over, all is forgotten. Women don't forget. And they know if you walk away from a man without a word, without letting him work through the "fight and forget" pattern he expects, it worries him. It wears on him badly. And, times like this, when Buck was feeling particularly peevish, he had thrown some clothes and personal things in his saddlebags before he left, to give the impression he was in no hurry to get back.
Yep, Buck knew how to really, really, really get at Larabee. And it wasn't talking, because when the gunfighter was mad, he didn't listen - even though he might think about it later and come around. And a good old fashioned one-on-one brawl didn't work because losing a fist fight didn't convince Larabee he was wrong - it did, however, often leave him so bruised and stove-up that he couldn't carry through with whatever tom fool idea he had been planning.
Damn. How and why were Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington friends, anyway?
So, the riding hadn't chased the words away, and being left with his own thoughts was only making things worse, so Buck had decided to come back to town and take a page from his old friend and drink it all into remission. He'd come to the town's smaller bar thinking for sure his friends would be up town where Inez could pay special attention to them. But no, there they were, sitting at the corner table by the bar. As if they had known he’d choose this bar. As if they were waiting for him. A study in Black and Tan. Like one of those fancy paintings Ezra talked about that were too classy to be lessened by colors and texture. They were sitting there. Tanner had his hat pulled over his eyes and his legs stretched long like he was dozing. Larabee was fiddling with his shot glass. A barely touched bottle of red eye sat between them.
Buck was drawn up short, surprised to see the other two there, but he barely missed a step. He'd drink wherever he pleased. If Vin thought he could put up with the building storm that was a Larabee sulk, more power to him. Buck moved to the shoddy plank placed across two beer kegs that passed for the bar. He ordered a beer, ignoring the other two. This place was crowded, heavy with shadows and smelled of alcohol, drunks and cigarette smoke. Just the way Buck liked it when he felt like this.
Buck turned his head in response to his name.
"My name is Thaddeus Thornton."
The tall peacekeeper took in the man offering his hand. He was balding, pudgy and dressed all proper-like. "What can I do for you?"
"Oh, sir, it's what I can do for you."
Buck raised an eyebrow.
"I am a new kind of scientist, a student of the human mind. What if I told you I can make your life easier?" He had some sort of accent, foreign or maybe someplace up north. But he most definitely thought a lot of himself and was putting on airs.
Buck turned back to his beer.
"Mr. Wilmington, I've been studying you and your fellow peacekeepers. Wouldn't you give me 30 minutes of your time if it helped them?"
What the hell, Buck thought to himself and nodded the little man toward an empty table. Instead, Thaddeus Thornton chose to steer them toward the table next to Larabee and Tanner. Buck was still of the temperament that he wasn't going to let the others influence his life. If the little feller wanted to sit there, so what? But he did take the chair that put his back to the others and continued to ignore them.
"How do you look at the world, Mr. Wilmington?" The question was asked with a haughty, professorial air.
Buck frowned his confusion at the question.
"How do you separate the human race? Northerners and Southerners? Americans and foreigners?" Thornton tried to clarify.
"Men and women." Buck answered as if it were the only obvious answer. He thought he heard a chuffled snort from the table behind him, but it was so low he couldn't be sure and didn't give them the satisfaction of turning around.
"What if you saw mankind as feline and canine?"
"Why would I do that?"
"I have a theory that men can be separated into either feline traits or canine traits and it helps understand interactions once you can tell the difference."
"Really?" Buck almost sounded interested.
"Take your small local group of lawmen. Mr. Larabee, Mr. Tanner and Mr. Standish are most definitely feline."
"How long you say you've been in town?" Buck asked. His tone had a protective edge that the self-important scholar missed.
"Oh, it doesn't take any time to separate the two, once you know what you're looking for." He began to lecture, "Feline personalities are svelte, independent, loners, and have no need to lower themselves to the mundane personalities that surround them."
Buck noticed the feller was talking louder than he needed to. Like he wanted someone else to hear as he continued, "Have you noticed how people are drawn to those three men? As if their very aloofness attracts the lesser beings."
"Lesser beings?" Buck emptied half of his beer mug.
"Canines." The little toad glanced over to see if maybe Mr. Larabee was eavesdropping. Apparently not. Damn. He turned his attention back to the man with whom he shared his table, "Canines are rambunctious, anxious to serve, they do okay in a pack, but will never be recognized on an individual level that cat-people attain. The very fact that you agreed to talk to me because I said it would help the others proves my point."
"Wantin' to help people is a bad thing?"
"Oh, no, we need people who find their self-worth in service to others. You, Mr. Jackson, Mr. Sanchez, and young Mr. Dunne, we need your kind." The man took on a superior tone.
"So you're a cat person?" Buck asked, trying to sound sincere.
The smaller man looked down his nose and through his Ben Franklin glasses as if the answer was obviously 'yes', and the question didn't even need to be asked.
The dark haired man in front of him was studying what was left of his beer. "So what does all that mean?" There was an unreadable tone in Wilmington's voice.
"Why, that little scene between Mr. Larabee and yourself this morning says it all. You're a nice enough fellow, and easy-going, so Mr. Larabee tolerates you. But you'd be much better off if you could learn not to try to associate outside your own kind -"
"Canines. If you could just be satisfied, and not try to associate with people above your own station in life…"
Buck felt a strong hand grab his upper arm and pull him to his feet. He looked up ready to protest until he saw that it was Chris Larabee who was pulling him to his feet. Even Buck knew to keep quiet when his friend had that look in his eye,
"Alright, that's enough." The dark gunfighter growled.
The lecturer was elated. He had finally gotten the attention of Chris Larabee. "You can ask Mr. Larabee yourself, what would you think of a cat that associated with dogs?"
"We're leaving." Larabee shoved his tall friend toward the doors without even acknowledging that Thornton existed.
"Now Chris," Buck began, not sure he was ready to be pushed out the door.
Thornton interrupted Buck as if he no longer existed now that the "scientist" had Larabee's attention. "Loyalty aside, Mr. Larabee, what would you think of a cat that …"
Chris was still ushering Wilmington out the door and ignoring Mr. Thaddeus Thornton.
"After listenin' to you, I'd think he was a purty lucky cat." Vin Tanner drawled as he sauntered past the pudgy man. His blue eyes weren't nearly as indifferent as his tone of voice.
"Gentlemen," and it was clear Thornton was trying to impress Larabee and Tanner, "I appreciate your noble stand, but in your heart of hearts I know you don't like…"
As soon as the instigator had started talking again, Larabee spun and made his way back into the dark saloon, towered over him in his personal space and looked down enough to come nose to nose with him. At first, the little man thought he had gotten through to the notorious gunman. He knew he'd made a mistake by the time he was having to crane his head back to meet the deadly angry eyes glaring down on him.
"You want to know what I don't like?" Chris Larabee growled, "I don't like people who mistake easy-going or patient or a good heart as a sign of weakness. You'll be out of town by sundown tomorrow, or you won't get a chance to leave." Larabee turned on his heel and his spurs sang an angry tune as he crossed back to his old friend waiting by the exit.
"Better listen to him."
The small man jumped, startled when Tanner's voice whispered up from behind him. How did…? He could have sworn the tracker had moved to leave.
"You're still here come tomorrow evenin', I'll help him bury the body." With that, the Texan smiled and touched the brim of his hat. He turned and joined his friends.
"What the hell was all that about? Listening to all that hogwash?" Larabee chastised. In the mood Buck'd been in when he left town, he was afraid he might take that trash to heart.
"I was just listenin', Chris."
"Why didn't you say something?"
"I was too busy tryin' to remember what he was sayin'."
"Why the hell would you want to remember any of that?" Larabee demanded.
Buck saw concern and guilt cross his friend's eyes. He'd seen that enough over the last few years. It was a silent apology for thoughtless words, but it was equally an admonishment to Buck for even giving Chris's earlier words any credence. And it was a reminder that Chris thought he could say anything he pleased to Buck, but no one else better try it.
Glancing over Larabee's shoulder, Buck saw Tanner standing there smiling. The man was entertained by the oddest things. It reminded Buck that there were now seven men who figured they were friends enough to work through the hardest of times and come out better on the other side. And if an outsider took on one of them he took on them all.
To be sure that Chris understood that Buck understood all of this, Buck hurried to explain himself, "I was thinkin' on gettin' Ezra and 'Siah tipsy and throw those ideas out at them. Figured it'd be good for some laughs."
"Damn it, Buck, you'll get 'em tryin' to kill each other." And Chris shoved Buck out the door, "C'mon, the others are waiting supper on us."
"Now ya see, you think ever'body's as crotchety as you are."
"Buck, shut up."
Thaddeus Thornton watched from a safe vantage point, peeking over the batwing doors as the three men sauntered down the boardwalk together. And then he felt someone tap him politely on the shoulder. He turned to come face to face with Ezra Standish.
In the most accommodating of ways, the Southerner greeted him, "Mr. Thornton, I suspect you are ready to concede our small wager?"
Thornton begrudgingly handed over a ten-dollar gold piece, "Your gamble paid off, fair and square. But last night, you said it yourself, my theory is so airtight…"
"I never gamble," Standish stated as he bit into the coin to test its genuineness. He couldn't help a bit of smugness. It had been so easy. Greed made an easy target, but Ezra loved to play a mark based on his ego, "But whatever validity your hypothesis holds, you ignored one quite intangible element - friendship."
"I don't see how that makes so much difference."
"No, you wouldn't, would you?" Ezra offered callously. He had the man's money now. There was no need to be civil. And he didn't like the conclusions the little weasel had drawn regarding Mr.'s Wilmington, Jackson, Sanchez and Dunne any more than Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner had. But at the same time, there was something sad, yet familiar about the attitude, if not the man; a ghost of the past as it were, that compelled Ezra to add more, "I find myself still learning the finer points of camaraderie myself. But I have very good teachers. So, if you'll excuse me? As you heard, I have a dinner engagement and my friend expects me to entertain him with my opinion of your theories. I plan to accommodate him."
Standish stepped off the boardwalk. He would have sworn that no one was aware of his presence on this end of town, but as soon as he moved their way, Vin Tanner, wearing a smug grin, stopped and turned to wait for him. The other two turned around and when they saw Ezra, stopped to wait along with Vin.
While never giving the appearance of rushing, Ezra caught up with the other men in time to hear Buck turn to the tracker, "Vin, dogs and packs, wolves and such? Let me ask you …"
Before Tanner could respond, Larabee grumbled, "Wilmington, don't make me have to shoot you." And they were well on their way to re-igniting the argument from the previous day. They almost seemed to enjoy it.
Ezra glanced at Vin and saw the same thought echoed back to him. Even during the good times Buck Wilmington and Chris Larabee fought … fought like … well, he smiled, they fought like cats and dogs.
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