Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit made
The members of the ATF team known as "The Magnificent Seven" were gathered in leader Chris Larabee's kitchen. They'd been 'given' the week off after an arduous bust and had decided to explore some of the BLM roads further south. All of the agents were intrigued by the Old West, including Ezra Standish, their resident undercover member and gambler. While the chestnut-haired agent was very fastidious with his clothing and person normally, he offered no objections to donning his oldest jeans and a plain tee shirt, as well as his cowboy boots, to go on this expedition.
The road they had chosen passed by a couple of old mines with tailings piles that could be explored with little effort, as well as leading to a small town that had been abandoned well before the end of the 1800s. The men had enjoyed dressing in period outfits for a trip to a restored tourist town where Chris had worked as one of the gunfighters, so they had pulled out the items again to use at the authentic ghost town for some pictures. Buck had even agreed to join Chris in doing one of the mock gunfights, the tall brunet being handy with a Peacemaker and trusting his oldest friend implicitly not to miss and actually shoot him. Larabee had blanks for both of them, but would be careful even with them, since the bullets still had their casing and gunpowder and were therefore still dangerous at close range.
Vin Tanner had helped the blond put together thick ham sandwiches and Nathan and Josiah had brought slaw and potato salad as sides. Chris had even made a couple of dishes of banana pudding for dessert. Ezra sniffed in interest, taking in the vanilla and banana scents as he helped pack the food and drinks into two coolers.
"Might I ask what that dessert is? It smells quite delectable, but I don't recognize it."
The others looked at Standish in surprise.
"You've never had banana pudding? I thought just about everyone knew of it, even if they didn't like bananas," Chris spoke softly. "Sarah used to fix it a lot in the summer, since it's served cool."
"I love banana pudding! My mom used to make it before she got so sick. It was something she could do without too much effort," JD enthused.
Vin gave a reminiscent grin. "It was my favorite when I was a little feller. Ma used to make it for me on the weekends before the fever got her down."
Nathan was licking his lips in anticipation. "My momma used to fix it for us kids after school. It was easy and quick, plus with the bananas in it, it was fairly healthy as far as a dessert went. Always loved comin' in the door and smellin' the scent of bananas and vanilla."
Josiah nodded in agreement. "Me too, brother Nate. Especially when we lived in San Francisco where you could get the fruit fairly easily, we had it quite a bit. It was the one thing that we could all four agree on, seemed like." The ex-preacher tilted his head as he considered Standish. "Reckon that might be why Ezra's never had any though . . . it's simple and easy, so it's not really something Maude would consider gourmet dessert."
Chris explained what was included.
"It's real simple, Ezra. Just vanilla pudding . . . in this case the instant variety . . . and layers of sliced banana and vanilla wafer cookies. Usually served with Cool-Whip or some other type of whipped topping." He looked concerned. "Do you want me to find something else to take too?"
The chestnut-haired man shook his head. "There's no need. I've never had it… and Josiah is probably right about the possible reason . . . but I like bananas and it sounds, and smells, quite delicious, so I'm more than willin' to give it a try. After all, a picnic is not really a time for 'gourmet desserts' as Mr. Sanchez tactfully put it." He then smiled.
"Now I'm quite lookin' forward to tastin' it for myself, since you all seem so fond of it. I'm discoverin' there are a lot more enjoyable things in this world than my dear mother ever dreamed of."
Laughing and nodding in agreement, the men went back to packing the food and sodas. Ready fairly quickly, they headed out to the Ram and Josiah's Suburban, stowing the coolers in the bed of the big Dodge and their duffle bags with the old west clothing in the back of the 'Burb.
It took a little over an hour to get to the road they wanted, but when they did the narrow dirt expanse was uninhabited except for themselves. The path wound up and around and over or through several tall mountains, sometimes on areas that were only wide enough for one vehicle with a steep drop on one side and sheer rock on the other.
Chris navigated carefully, but easily, over the winding, deserted road while his passengers took in the sometimes sweeping vistas before them. Vin cracked his window so that the enticing aroma of spruce and fir could waft in, accompanied by the smell of dry earth disturbed by the wheels and the occasional scent of damp soil and leaves when they passed various springs and ensuing creeks and narrow waterfalls. The occasional faded wooden building at the head of a mine shaft or forming a deteriorating mill or cabin would appear here and there above or below them on the sides of the mountains, inviting exploration of their own, but Chris continued on to their predetermined destination since there wasn't time to examine everything.
Everyone but the drivers had their phones and cameras out, snapping pictures of the beautiful scenery and of each other. Ezra got sweeping vistas from some of the sharp curves high on the side of the mountains that they crawled slowly around, as well as turning the lens on his companions in the Ram. Vin had his eyes closed in a few, a look of sheer bliss on his face as the nature-loving tracker soaked in the sights and smells of the deserted area. Each of his companions could actually see the wiry frame relaxing, the further they traveled from the more occupied locations.
They stopped at a couple of old abandoned mines that had tailing piles right next to the road. Climbing carefully to the flattened tops, they each picked a spot and settled in for a couple of hours to see what they could find. Chris chose a location shaded by a higher pile of slag, hunkering down to carefully observe the area before he started digging.
JD on the other hand had just picked a spot and plopped down immediately to begin sifting through the warm rubble with his hands. The others spread out around the pair and claimed their own space, settling in to begin in ways that matched each man's personality. Josiah and Nathan were both methodical, Buck enthusiastic but a bit more disciplined than JD, and Vin did like Chris and carefully looked his area over before even sitting down. Ezra wandered around a bit before picking a likely location, then laid all of his supplies out neatly around him before examining the debris in his immediate area.
Since many of the older mines threw out everything except the exact mineral they were looking for, they each found some wire silver and assorted gemstones, etc. Ezra was ecstatic, brushing off his treasures and looking them up in the gem and mineral guide he carried before depositing them in a zip-lock baggie. The rest watched with grins, though they all had to admit that hunting for the pieces was a bit addicting, especially when they found some minute gold nuggets at the second mine that had primarily been interested in silver.
Finally giving up on the 'mining' in favor of a late lunch, the men returned to the vehicles and drove a bit further on. Coming to an abandoned home site, they pulled off and unloaded the coolers.
The small, weathered log cabin stood a short distance from the road under several large trees which included Aspen and an obviously introduced apple tree. They figured the homesteaders probably brought the fruit tree with them as a seedling when they came west. A small field stretched around the cabin and yard with a rippling stream at the far side where the valley floor met the base of the mountain. A mule deer raised its head from where it grazed peacefully in the tall grass near the creek as they pulled up. Parking, the passengers climbed eagerly out. Vin got pictures of the doe as she stood watching them quietly. She didn't appear alarmed and when they didn't move toward her, she simply put her head down and began eating again.
Pulling out the coolers, they carried them to the big tree that shaded the front of the cabin. Chris flipped open a Pendleton blanket he'd brought that Sarah had used for their picnics and laid it on the grass. The group gathered around it and dug into the containers. Soon they were all happily munching on sandwiches and sides with a cold drink next to them.
Deciding to let their food settle a bit before they tackled the dessert, Vin, Josiah, Nathan, Buck, and Chris all leaned back on their elbows so they could stretch their legs out.
JD was too excited to lay back, even with the two sandwiches and extra helpings of slaw and potato salad he'd had. The youngest agent hopped up and declared that he was going to go check out the cabin. Ezra decided to join him, brushing off his jeans as he rose. Chris nodded and laid his hat over his eyes as he lowered his back to the ground for a short rest. Vin propped his back against one of the trees and followed suit with his slouch hat. Josiah and Nathan rested on their hands, chatting amiably. Buck stretched out like Chris and was almost immediately dozing, hands over his full stomach and booted ankles crossed in contentment.
The cabin looked to have two rooms to it. Three worn steps led up to the porch on front. JD tried the door, but it refused to budge. The kid moved to peer curiously in the left-hand window after three tries failed to open it. There were two windows, one on each side of the central portal. There had either never been any glass or it had broken long ago, since the openings were simply covered with heavy shutters now. One had come loose on the left window and the upper corner drooped an inch or so, allowing JD to peer inside by standing on tip-toe.
"I don't imagine there is much to see, my friend. Since the domicile is so near the road, anything of worth would have been discovered and absconded with long ago."
Dunne turned his head with a puzzled expression. "Huh?" Even after more than three years, he still sometimes had trouble understanding the gambler.
"Anything valuable would have been found and taken years ago," Standish translated with a slight grin.
"Oh." The kid nodded. "Guess that's right. All I can see is a table, couple of chairs and some shelves against the back wall."
He sounded a bit disappointed, but upon reflection realized that Ezra was most likely right about anything valuable that was left probably disappearing long ago. At least there were the few pieces of furniture. It could have been totally bare, which would have been pretty boring.
"Is the door locked?" Ezra asked as JD stepped back to join him.
"Nah, think it's just stuck, 'cause it gave a little. Maybe with the two of us, we can get it open."
The gambler joined the younger agent in putting his shoulder against the door and pushing. The duo tried three times, throwing themselves against the wood with more energy each time. Both men stumbled when the stubborn piece suddenly opened under their combined assault.
The two men lurched through the opening, regaining their balance as they got inside. Ezra's green eyes scanned the room they were in quickly and then the graceful figure moved to peer into the adjoining space. Satisfied that there was no danger, the undercover agent went back to where Dunne stood.
The doorway led into a room approximately 10'x10'. The front window and door were the only openings. The walls were made of hand-hewn logs, flat side facing inward, and thick hand-planed boards fashioned the floor. Mud formed chinking between the logs, some missing in various spots. A large stone fireplace took up most of the right-hand wall, leaving space at the front for a doorway to the next room. The rough hand-made wooden table JD had seen stood in the middle of the floor, two ladder-back chairs flanking it. The case of shelves sat against the back wall, boards bowed slightly in the middle as if something heavy had been stacked on them.
The duo separated to move slowly around the small space, examining the wood and stonework and each picturing in their mind's eye what it would have looked like when occupied.
"Can you imagine a couple of wooden rocking chairs in front of the fire? There was probably an oil lamp on the mantel. Maybe a braided rag rug on the floor in front of the hearth. Dishes and food containers on the shelves," JD murmured, almost to himself.
Ezra examined the iron hooks set into the well of the fireplace. "A large iron pot hangin' over the fire with stew inside…"
Dunne nodded. "Maybe a checked gingham cloth on the table and enameled plates and cups like in the restaurant at the tourist town where Chris worked. A matching coffee pot on the hearth to keep warm."
Standish continued the imaginings. "Perhaps even a set of short gingham curtains over the window." The sharp emerald gaze caught sight of two wooden pegs over the doorway. A wave of one hand brought the eyes of his companion to them. "A rifle or shotgun over the door within easy reach."
JD was swiveling to look around the room, agile mind picturing what they described until it seemed almost as if he'd stepped back in time and was looking at the cabin as it had been when occupied. He didn't realize the undercover agent felt the same way.
Having examined what little there was in the first room, the pair stepped into the second. The fireplace served both rooms, situated between them as it was. A hand-hewn wooden bedframe sat in the middle of the right-hand wall, heavy ropes lashed between the lower rails. The ropes would have held the mattress which was probably stuffed with hay or straw. There were no signs that there would have been enough chickens or other fowl to have provided feathers for the mattress since there were no coops nearby. The ropes were disintegrating and would hold nothing now from the looks of them. A wooden chair sat in the corner near the bed. Several wooden pegs were located along the front wall. There were no other furnishings in the room, which was a bit smaller than the other one.
"Wonder why they went off and left this stuff?" murmured JD curiously.
"There's really no way to know, my young friend. Without finding a written explanation or a local who knows the story, it is likely we will never be privy to exactly what happened to these particular people."
JD sighed a bit wistfully. "Too bad. Places like this make ya want to know who the people were and what happened to 'em."
Moving over to look at the pegs, the smaller form asked if that was where the residents hung their clothes. When he asked a second time and still got no response, he noticed that he'd lost the chestnut haired man's attention. The green gaze was fastened on the floor in the back corner. When the electronics tech moved toward him, Ezra held up a warning hand.
"Be careful. This board is loose and pulling away from the floor. There may be others."
JD stopped by the bed as the gambler knelt by the loose plank and pulled one end up, dipping his head to peer intently underneath.
"Whatcha doin', Ez?"
The squatting figure pulled out the flashlight he carried and pointed the beam at the ground revealed by the raised piece of wood.
"I believe I see what may be gold dust scattered on the dirt underneath here. JD, would you be so kind as to go get a clean plastic spoon?"
The younger agent looked confused again. "A spoon?"
Ezra answered patiently. "Yes, Mr. Dunne . . . a spoon. So that I may scoop up the dirt without disturbing or losing the apparent gold dust."
"Oh . . . okay! I get it. Be right back!"
Boots thumped on the floor of the other room and then the porch as the kid hurried to where the others were to get the requested object. When he returned he handed the utensil to Standish and then knelt to look in the hole as well. Dull golden-yellow specks did indeed glint in the beam of the flashlight.
"I think you're right, Ezra."
There weren't that many flecks and they were scattered a bit with bare spots in the middle.
"It looks like it might if they had hid a couple of bags of gold dust under here and some spilled when they put them down or picked them back up . . . ."
Standish nodded absently, reaching into the opening with the spoon.
Using the small object, he carefully scooped up the dirt containing the glittering dust and deposited it in one of the baggies that he pulled from his pocket. When he'd gathered up all the minute flakes he could, he fastened the top and stood, gesturing to the door.
JD headed out of the room, followed more sedately by Ezra.
When the duo made it to the yard, the rest of the group were sitting up watching the cabin. The kid's excited trip after the spoon had aroused interest when he had garbled that he needed the plastic utensil so Ezra could scoop up gold dust.
Buck was the first to speak. "What's this about scoopin' gold dust? In the cabin?"
Chris quickly figured out the probable scenario. "Loose floor board or spot in the wall?"
Standish nodded at his leader. One hand passed the baggie to the seated blond. Larabee took it carefully and held it up for examination.
"I'm no expert, but looks like gold to me. You can have it authenticated somewhere to be sure."
At Ezra's nod of permission, Chris passed the small bag around to the others.
Josiah agreed with Larabee. "Looks like the real deal best I can tell. It would be a fairly common thing for the owners to hide any gold they had under the floorboards or in the wall for safekeeping. I'm sure theft was rife around these parts back then."
"Probably still happens sometimes," Vin added as he passed the bag back to Ezra.
"No doubt. Greed's strong where gold and silver are concerned . . . ," Nathan voiced.
This time the dark eyes didn't drift to the gambler like they once would have. The men all knew now that while the gambler might appear mercenary, and valuables did entice him, that he was also quite generous and had proven that he was worthy of their trust. However, if a bad guy was cheating a good person, all bets were off and Standish was not above teaching the miscreant a lesson. That didn't bother the team in the least.
Vin looked thoughtful. "Reckon they might'a got the gold from the creek."
"That's what Ez thought," JD added with a vigorous nod.
Chris rose fluidly to his feet and then looked at the others.
"Y'all wanna head on to the ghost town or check out the creek? Water's probably gonna be pretty cold . . . ," he added as an afterthought.
Several of the party looked intrigued, but all then shook their heads.
"Nah, I vote for continuin' to the town like we planned. We can always come back here another time," Buck voiced his opinion.
"If Ez gets started pannin' for gold and finds some, we'll be here 'till dark," the tracker drawled with a teasing grin and a wink of one blue eye.
"Doubt he'd be the only one . . . ," Buck added with a bob of his eyebrows toward JD.
"Findin' treasure can addict anyone," Josiah intoned solemnly.
"Alright, best we gather everything up after dessert and head out then, before we're all tempted to freeze to death in the creek," Chris decided with a grin. "We can come back here another day off."
The rest nodded in agreement.
At the mention of dessert, Buck pulled out the containers of banana pudding and the Cool-whip. Everyone grabbed a plastic bowl and spoon and soon the seven of them were arranged comfortably around the area. Chris sat on one of the porch steps with Ezra leaning on the post nearby while the others sat on the blanket or leaned against a tree trunk.
Larabee's green eyes glanced up at the gambler to see how he liked the dessert.
"It's quite good. The vanilla of the wafers and pudding doesn't overpower the bananas, but compliments them nicely. And the whipped topping adds just the right accompaniment. I find I'm quite taken with it."
The blond smiled. "Good. I'm glad you like it."
Chris finished his and slid the spoon around the bowl to get the last bits. The others grinned as they watched him. The lean leader wasn't that big on sweets, often refraining or only eating a few bites, but he appeared to relish the pudding.
The others voiced approval as well, Vin, Buck and JD going back for seconds.
When they were all finished, they gathered up the food and dishes and returned them to the coolers. They had packed a couple of trash bags as well, so the dirty plasticware got placed in one of them to be disposed of later. Buck and Josiah carried the containers back to the Ram while Chris picked up the blanket and folded it neatly.
By the time they were done, nothing remained to show that the group had been there except for the mashed grass and the occasional footprint. Ezra and JD had managed to get the cabin door closed back securely, so only the disturbed dust showed signs that anyone had visited. With grins of anticipation, the group climbed back into the vehicles and headed for the abandoned town.
The ghost town turned out to be a fairly compact area with only two main streets which ran parallel to each other and four or five short cross streets a block or two long. The mostly wooden buildings were gray and weathered, some boarded up long ago. The town sat nestled picturesquely in a small valley. There was a small two-story hotel, two or three saloons, a stone-fronted bank, a livery stable and blacksmith shop, a boarding house, two mercantiles and a marshal's office and jail, as well as a small restaurant. A few wooden houses lined the second street. Public privy's stood in strategic places and a bath house faced one of the side streets.
Chris and Josiah parked a little distance away from the faded buildings so that the vehicles wouldn't ruin the atmosphere. Each of the group dug out their period clothing so that they could change to better match the setting. The path to the town was fairly flat so the seven of them strolled casually toward the neglected buildings, mentally envisioning how it must have looked in the five or so years of its heyday. More mine openings and tailing piles were visible on the slopes above the town, and what appeared to be a smelter sat on a ledge a half-mile or so behind and above the farthest street. Tall grass covered the land immediately around the buildings and a small line of tall trees partially hid it from view of the road. A narrow, shallow stream arced behind the town at the base of the mountain, far enough away to keep flooding from being a problem in all but the heaviest downpours, but close enough to be easily accessible.
The hotel was the closest building to the group, so when they arrived they all entered and picked rooms to change. Larabee took one at the front corner, looking around with interest at the big walnut bed and once-green plush drapes and bedspread that now appeared more gray with their coating of dust.
When he'd taken a couple of pictures with his phone, Chris shed his clothes and stepped into the black pants with the silver buckle at the back. Instead of the black bib-fronted shirt he pulled on a dark blue one this time. Long fingers tucked the material into his waist and then he eased his ebony boots back on. He added the silver-trimmed black spur harness and silver spurs to the boots and fastened the matching gunbelt and holster high on his hips. The black flat-crowned hat went on the blond hair. It was getting cooler, so he slipped the black duster on as well.
Heading downstairs once he was dressed, he discovered that Vin and Buck were already waiting. The tracker wore tan pants, a blue bib-front shirt and his tan buckskin jacket. The mare's leg he favored when dressed in old west attire was holstered on his right thigh and the cavalry slouch hat sat on top of the long loose hair, making him look quite at home in the period hotel. The ladies' man sported tight tan pants over brown boots, a blue print calico shirt and kerchief, and his brown leather coat. The tan plainsman hat he preferred sat on the dark hair and his brown leather gunbelt held his wooden-handled Colt .45.
Josiah and Nathan came down in just a few minutes, the ex-preacher wearing blue-gray pants with a gold stripe down the outside seams and a light blue shirt. The long tan jacket with the Indian blanket yolks strained across the broad shoulders and his gunbelt was fastened with the holster on the left side. A light-colored ten-gallon hat sat on his head and a long leather thong with a wooden cross and beads hung around his neck. The healer sported blue pants, a tan shirt, a plaid wool jacket and his favorite black wide-brimmed hat. His brown leather gunbelt and holster were positioned for a cross-draw.
JD came bouncing down the steps next, his brown tweed eastern suit and bowler hat worn with the brown leather dual-holster gunbelt and Colt Lightning pistols. The twin guns made a rather incongruous image with the suit and short boots, but somehow the look suited the young lawman.
Ezra was last and he arrived looking every bit the southern gambler in gray pinstripe trousers worn with a snowy white ruffled shirt and red long-tailed jacket with velvet lapels. The black gambler's hat sat on the chestnut hair and he wore a chestnut leather gunbelt and holster on his right hip, a shoulder holster under his left arm, and was playing with the derringer rig up his sleeve as he stepped off the stairs. His gold tooth was shining in the subdued light as he joined the rest of the group.
After a few photos in the hotel, the cluster of period-correct figures stepped out onto the weathered boardwalk that started at the outside edge of the two-story building and went to the other end of the small town. Rail hitching posts sagged in front of the various buildings and dilapidated watering troughs rested at intervals along both sides of the street. Chris moved off with long, fluid strides, the others spreading out around him as they strolled leisurely along the walk.
It only took about an hour to explore the various buildings. There were pictures of and in the saloons, restaurant, bank, jail and other buildings, several done in black and white or sepia tone. The old-fashioned photographs helped hide the layers of dust and cobwebs that covered most everything in the town. The majority of the buildings were fairly well furnished, but a few were almost completely empty and looked like they had been boarded up and abandoned even while the town was still occupied.
They checked out a few of the houses, Ezra picking the locks to gain entrance to the ones that were fastened, all admiring the reasonably fashionable velvet upholstered settees and chairs and nicely carved wood that inhabited the interiors. It was interesting to speculate what would have made the inhabitants leave without taking the obviously respectable furniture and other items. Only things of a personal nature seemed to be missing from many of the dwellings.
They still had some time before it got dark after they finished with the houses, so JD asked Buck and Chris to do one of the gunfight routines in the authentic setting. Since Chris had brought blanks for just such a scenario, they agreed with little coaxing. To be honest, the atmosphere of the town practically begged for some action like that to bring it to life, and the feeling had effected them all.
The group moved to one of the saloons and the others ranged around outside in good vantage points while the two gunmen got in place. With a quiet word of warning to remind everyone to stay still and not move into the line of fire, the lean and dangerous looking figures began their 'fight', ending in a shootout in the street where Buck went down, leaving the dark, imposing form of the leader standing over him with the edges of the ebony duster blowing in the breeze like the wings of an avenging angel.
Two boys ran through the haunting atmosphere of the ghost town in the late afternoon light. They both started calling breathlessly before they got to their mother.
"Mom, mom! There's real ghosts in the town!"
"Boys, you're letting your imagination get the best of you again," their mother sighed resignedly.
The three of them had visited the site several times and each time the boys were convinced that they could sense the presence of the previous inhabitants even though nothing appeared to her except weathered buildings, dust, and the occasional small animal.
Both youngsters shook their heads vigorously.
"No, we both saw it just now! There were people gathered on the boardwalks to watch a gunfight in the street. Two men were facin' each other and the one in black looked really dangerous! Think he musta been a famous gunfighter. The two men shot at each other and the one in black musta killed the other guy! He was layin' in the street and wasn't movin'! Didn't ya hear the shots?"
"I heard a couple of 'pops', but it was probably just the wind blowing a loose door or something."
"No, ma! It was a gunfight!! Come on!"
One of the boys grabbed his mother's hand and the two kids led her around the corner to the main street.
Once there, the redheaded lady blinked, rubbed her eyes, and blinked again in shock. There in the lengthening shadows of the afternoon stood five men gathered around two other men in the street. From where she stood the lady could see a tall dangerous looking figure in black standing over a lanky form lying motionless in the dust and dirt. The man in black's pistol was still in his hand and the lowering sun glinted off of the silvery barrel. As the three ran up and then skidded to a halt, icy green eyes that did indeed look extremely dangerous and intimidating turned to spear them. If they hadn't already stopped in their tracks, the imposing and deadly gaze would have caused them to. Five other sets of eyes turned at the sounds as well, freezing the woman and her sons in place. Dust swirled around the tableau in the street, and the shadows combined with the almost blinding rays of light from the sun as it hovered just above the nearby mountain did indeed give the whole scene a ghostly, almost hazy air.
"Oh My God…it is haunted…"
At the sound of voices and running feet, everyone but Buck looked around. Since he was playing 'dead', the ladies' man kept to his pose. Chris turned his head but held the Colt in place until he determined whether the newcomers were a threat or not. If so, he would have to wait for them to get closer or surreptitiously change the blanks for regular ammunition. He knew the others were armed and using normal ammo, so wasn't too worried at the moment.
When a slender auburn-haired woman and two young boys came into view and then skidded to a halt, Chris' group started smiling, though they were a bit surprised. Obviously not as much as the lady and her kids, though . . . all three were gaping open-mouthed in shock and awe at the scene in front of them.
Upon hearing the soft ". . . it is haunted" comment, Josiah stepped forward holding out one hand. He used the other to show his badge. A hint of amusement colored the impressive baritone but he spoke softly, at least for him. White teeth gleamed in the ex-preacher's trademark toothy smile.
"No, ma'am. We're not spirits, just a law enforcement team who enjoys the old west. Our brother there . . . ." He pointed to Chris with his free hand. Larabee was now reaching down to help the tall brunet to his feet. ". . . used to do gunfights at an old west tourist town, so he was just taking advantage of the authentic setting to reenact one for us. Some of us do tend to make people look like they've seen a ghost, but I assure you we're all quite alive. Just a bit surprised to see other visitors here so late in the day." The last sentence held a bit of a query at the end of it.
The woman shook her head and then grinned rather sheepishly.
"I'm sorry. I let the boys' imagination take over my own, I guess. We live over the mountain, just off the BLM land. The boys love this old ghost town, and this is always where they want to come for their birthdays. We camp around the curve on the other side of the road and walk here so we don't disturb the atmosphere. The boys like to come late in the afternoon and explore and tell ghost stories, 'cause it looks more realistic then. We've never found anybody else here before, so when they said they saw the ghosts, and then we came around the corner and saw y'all dressed like you are, even I believed for a minute!"
The men laughed quietly, understanding how they could have had that effect. The woman continued then.
"If we're interrupting a group activity, we can go and come back in the morning. It's not like the boys haven't seen the town before."
Josiah glanced at Chris and the others, who shook their heads.
"No ma'am, that's fine. We planned to leave in just a little while anyway. You're welcome to join us. Sorry for startling you." One of the profiler's hands motioned to the other men as he put his badge away. "I know we probably look scary, some of us more than others, but I promise you and your boys are safe with us. Let me introduce you . . ." The big man proceeded to give the first names of the team as he pointed to each. All nodded or touched their hats in response.
"Thank you. My name's Anna, by the way. The boys are John and Mark . . . seven and ten respectively." She pointed to the kids as she introduced them.
Mark was a bit bolder than his younger brother so he walked closer to the impressive gunfighter and looked up to meet the green gaze. The dark-garbed blond definitely looked dangerous, but he didn't look mad when Mark caught his eyes, so the youngster felt brave enough to ask a question.
"We only got to see the end. Do you think you could do the gunfight again for us, sir? Please?"
Chris looked at Buck and both looked at Anna. Wilmington gave the woman his best charismatic smile and doffed his hat while Chris spoke to the boy.
"I don't mind, as long as your mom doesn't care if you see it. It's not real, but she might not want you exposed to the violence."
Anna heard the soft voice and moved a bit closer with John. They did look dangerous, but for some reason she felt safe with the seven men.
"They watch westerns all the time, so I don't mind. In fact, I'd love to see it too, if you don't mind entertaining strangers."
Buck chuckled. "Chris did the gunfights for visitors to the tourist town for several summers, so playin' to an audience is no problem, ma'am." One cobalt eye winked at the pretty woman as the warm voice practically purred.
Chris flicked his gaze back to the boy nearest him.
"Do we need to wait for your dad?"
The small brunet shook his head. "Nah, he's not here. He's a Marine and sometimes he can't even tell us where he is. He tries to talk to us a couple of times a week, but can't always. We haven't heard from him this week yet." He tried to sound matter-of-fact, but the others could hear the touch of disappointment in his voice.
Chris holstered his gun and then knelt so that he was more at eye-level with the youngster.
"Most of us are former military, so we understand. This trip is for your birthday, isn't it?"
The brown head nodded silently.
"I know you have to be disappointed that your dad couldn't wish you happy birthday. But believe me when I tell you that however much you miss him, he misses you as much or even more. That is one of the hardest things about being deployed to a dangerous area when you have a family . . . the having to miss birthdays and holidays to do your job, to keep other families safe when you can't talk to your own. Just because he couldn't call doesn't mean he doesn't care or that he doesn't love you or want to share your birthday with you. It just means that he takes his job to protect not just you, but lots of other people, seriously. It doesn't mean you're second place, I promise." The gunman's voice was soft and full of sincerity and the green gaze held the boy's solemnly.
"Did you have to miss birthdays and holidays?" the small voice held a bit of a quiver, but the brown eyes kept the steady look.
"Yeah, I missed some important events. I was in special forces, so I couldn't even call my wife on our first anniversary. I got out and joined the police force before my son was born, though. Still missed a birthday party or two, even then. Didn't mean I loved my family any less or that my job was more important to me than they were, just that some bad guys had to be taken care of so they wouldn't hurt people like my family. Protecting them was why I did what I did. I imagine your dad feels the same way." The others looked a bit surprised that Chris shared as much as he did, but they could also tell it made an impression on both boys.
Mark swallowed and then smiled at the impressive man. "Thank you, Sir."
Chris nodded and reached out to pat the youngster's shoulder.
"You're welcome, son."
The small brunet eyed the lean figure in front of him as Chris prepared to stand.
"You were an officer, weren't you?"
A tiny smile curved up one corner of the blond's mouth as he nodded. "Yeah, I was."
Mark looked pleased with himself. "I can tell."
Buck slapped Larabee on the back as the gunman rose with feline grace. "Think he means you're bossy, pard?"
Green eyes speared the ladies' man with a mock glare. "If as in I was your boss in the military and still am, then yeah. You might wanna keep that in mind . . . we are fixin' to have a gunfight after all." The low voice was silky-soft but dangerous sounding.
Anna looked concerned for a minute, afraid that her son might have inadvertently instigated a disagreement between the two powerful looking men, but when the rest of the group just snickered or laughed outright, she relaxed.
Chris stretched a bit and then almost absently took his .45 out and twirled it twice before letting it lightly slide back into the silver-trimmed holster.
"Alright, if we're gonna do another gunfight, we best get started. We're not camping, so we need to be headed out before it gets too dark. Buck, you ready?"
The well-built brunet nodded and winked at the redhead and boys.
"Ready when you are, Stud."
The blond pointed across the street. "The best and safest place to watch will probably be on the other side. We're using blanks, but they can still be dangerous at close range. Ez . . . you and JD wanna help 'em find a good vantage spot?"
Both men nodded and escorted the trio across, followed by the rest of the team who called encouragement to the pair as they went.
Vin called back to the ladies' man.
"Die well, Bucklin'." Laughter filled the soft voice.
A big grin curved the attractive mouth under the mustache. "I will! I plan t' give a performance that tugs at the lady's heartstrings so she wants t' come comfort me when I get back up."
"You're so full'a crap Buck." Chris' voice was teasing.
"You've been listenin' to the kid too much, Stud."
"Shut up, Wilmington. I'm already gonna shoot at ya, so I might forget and aim an inch or two to the left . . . ."
"Nah ya won't. You're too good a shot to make a mistake like that, Pard." The brunet grinned and brushed his mustache with his thumb and finger.
"Who said it'll be a mistake??" A tiny grin curved the corner of the chiseled lips though, and the green eyes sparkled with amusement.
When everyone was across the street, Vin turned to Anna and her boys.
"Okay, they're ready to start, so everyone make sure you stay where you are so that Chris won't have to worry about anyone being in the line of fire and can concentrate on Buck."
Anna and the boys nodded in wide-eyed acceptance. John looked a little confused.
"I thought blanks wouldn't hurt ya?"
Vin answered quietly. "They aren't as dangerous as regular bullets, but all a blank really means is it don't have the slug in it like normal bullets. It still has the gunpowder and casing, so at close range it can still be dangerous."
Ezra concurred. "Several actors and others have been killed from playing with a gun filled with blanks. Any time a gun is loaded, it should be considered dangerous, no matter what kind of ammunition it holds."
Both boys looked worried.
"So will it hurt Mr. Buck?"
Josiah shook his head. "No. Chris won't actually be shooting AT Buck . . . he aims an inch or two to the side so that he won't risk hurting his friend. The bullet will go harmlessly into the dirt. But that's why he wanted us over on this side of the street, so that no one would get caught up in the action and inadvertently move into the path of one of the bullets."
Both sets of eyes widened in understanding. "Ooohh, okay."
Nodding in acceptance, they both turned to the saloon as Buck and Chris' raised voices could be heard in simulated argument.
"Ya think yur too good t' drink with me?" Buck's belligerent voice echoed loudly through the saloon doors.
"Was just thinkin' I didn't want to, but now that ya mention it . . . ." Chris' tones were softer, but pitched so they could be heard easily. They also held a definite sneer that was dangerous sounding.
"Why ya dirty snake, ya just insulted me. Things are about to get ugly, and I hate ugly."
"Guess ya have trouble lookin' in the mirror when ya shave then . . . ."
"Alright, that's it! You're lower'n a snake's belly in a wagon rut mister, and yur about to pay for them words."
There was the sound of a punch being thrown and then Chris' dark-garbed form came stumbling backward through the open doorway, followed by an apparently livid Buck. "Take that ya low-down . . . ."
"You talkin' or fightin'?" asked the soft sneering voice as Chris swung what looked like a wicked right and Buck staggered back into the saloon. The lean figure of the gunfighter leaped after him and in just seconds the ladies' man came flying through the door to land in a heap in the street.
"Why yu no-good, yella varmint! I'm gonna drill ya for that . . . ."
Buck jumped to his feet and reached for his weapon. He was fast, but not fast enough.
Chris actually waited for the other man to clear leather before he drew. A blur of silver was all that was visible as a talented hand pulled the Colt. The steel of the gun barrel glinted in the light of the lowering sun as the man in black fired. The supposed bullet caused the ladies' man to shoot into the air above his opponent's head as he started falling to the ground. Everyone's eyes were riveted on Chris and no one noticed the tiny puff of dust as the gunman's bullet buried itself in the dirt just a couple of inches to the right of Buck. Both men played their parts so well, that even their team members were spellbound and stood with their mouths open and their breaths held as the lanky form slowly crumpled to the street. Buck opened his mouth as if to speak, but nothing came out but a soft whoosh of air and then his upper body settled into the dust in a boneless heap.
Chris watched the action impassively and when Buck got still, the ebony form stalked up to the prone figure. One black boot kicked the wooden-handled .45 out of reach and then the toe prodded the limp body in the ribs as he looked for signs of 'life'. When there appeared to be none, broad shoulders shrugged inside the duster and his fingers flipped the bone-handled Colt and settled it effortlessly in the silver trimmed holster. Long legs carried the intimidating figure back into the saloon and the low voice could be heard saying "Whiskey. Now." And then there was silence.
A round of applause erupted after a few minutes of total quiet. One of Buck's blue eyes cracked open and a grin curved his mouth as the 'dead man' sat up and started dusting himself off. Chris' lean form exited the saloon and one hand reached out to offer his partner help getting to his feet. The clapping was joined by whoops, hollers, and giddy laughter. JD's voice chattered as excitedly as the two boys as everyone replayed the action out loud and made admiring comments. Vin had gotten some good photos of the fight, too. Buck and Chris both gave a little bow to their audience, and then Chris moved to the wall of the saloon and leaned against it with one leg up as the crowd swarmed across the street and began congratulating Buck on his impressive death scene. They also called accolades to Chris for his totally realistic performance. Everyone who saw it was now more than half convinced that the man really was the reincarnation of an old west gunfighter.
"I've only seen gunfights on TV, but Mr. Chris looked really fast. Is he as quick as he appeared?" Anna asked with almost as much awe as her boys.
Ezra answered her. "Indeed, he is. Chris' skill is more than exemplary with a handgun. And like a true gunfighter of the old west, his talent lies not only in the speed of his draw but also in his amazing accuracy. One could be a fast draw but still end up dead if the other's aim was more precise."
Vin nodded agreement. "Buck is actually pretty fast himself and he could beat most folks. But Chris is just so much faster that he makes even Buck look slow. Don't know if ya noticed or not, but Chris actually let Buck draw first. Even with lettin' Bucklin get his gun out of his holster first though, Chris had his drawn, aimed and fired before Buck could get his Colt up and the trigger pulled. That's almighty quick in any time period. And, like Ez said, Chris is uncommonly accurate too. The combination is almost always gonna be deadly in Chris' favor if he wants it to be." The tracker's husky voice was basically matter-of-fact, although a pleased smile did curve his chiseled mouth.
"So he's always that fast?" Anna asked in awe, brown eyes moving from man to man in amazement.
Buck actually answered then.
"Yes ma'am, he is." The normally boisterous voice was perfectly serious. "He actually tried to slow his reactions down when he was workin' at the tourist town, so he could be fair and take his turn gettin' 'shot', but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't do it. Instinct would just take over and he'd beat whoever he was goin' up against no matter what his intentions were. Folks half joke about him bein' a gunfighter in a past life, but he truly was born with that talent. Practice has honed it even sharper, but ol' Chris' has been hell on wheels with a handgun pretty much his whole life I reckon."
A soft "Wow" was all the response the redhead could come up with. The auburn-haired woman somehow knew that she and her sons had just been witness to something unique that they would likely never experience again.
JD was as excited as the kids. The young man bounced up to Chris and asked the quiet gunman if he could take Buck's place against him in a new gunfight. Wilmington looked at the smaller form with concern.
"You sure ya wanna do that, Kid? You know how it's gonna end . . . ."
Chris straightened up but didn't move from the wall.
"JD, you sure about this? You're fast yourself and you've gotten a lot more accurate, so I don't want to make you doubt yourself if I win."
JD just grinned. "Oh, I know you're gonna win, Chris. I admit I used to think I wanted to be as fast as you, but after seein' you shoot for over three years I've pretty much given that goal up. I just wanna keep tryin' now until I'm the best I can be. And goin' up against you helps me get better, even if I don't ever beat you."
Chris sighed. "Alright, JD. But remember, facin' off with me is a little different than the shootin' contests we have at the ranch and at the range. Shootin' side-by-side isn't as nerve-wracking as facing someone who's drawin' on you and looks like they're gonna shoot you in the head or the heart."
"He's right, squirt. Bein' in Chris' cross-hairs, especially when ya know how good he is, is a whole different thing from competin' with him at shootin' targets. Even when ya know he's usin' blanks and plans to aim away from ya, it's a little scary. Why do ya think them perps piss . . . um, give up so quick . . . just lookin' up the barrel of his gun when we bust 'em?"
Buck had spied the kids and changed his wording accordingly, but the others still knew what he meant and grinned.
"I understand that. I still wanna give it a try, alright? Even loosin' to Chris in a gunfight looks like it'd be cool . . . as long as you know he's not plannin' on killin' you for real."
Chris and Buck looked at each other for a couple of minutes and then the blond shrugged. They could both see that the younger agent really wanted to do this.
"Alright, Kid. But you need to let Buck tell you what to do and listen to him. He won't be blowin' smoke this time. Buck and I have done this together before. Comin' into it green means you need to do what he says, exactly how he says it. And once we decide on a scenario, don't change it. I'll use a little extra leeway on you, but you also need to do your best not to flinch or duck out of the way. I'll be aiming for a certain spot and if you move into it after I've fired, there's nothing I can do to redirect the shot."
The dark head nodded vigorously. "I understand Chris. Even though we've never done it before, I trust you enough to let you aim at me."
Chris thought a moment. "Buck, do you think I should unload for this first try?"
The taller man looked at the younger one and then back to Chris. "No, I think he'll be able to do it, Chris. And you're good enough that as long as he doesn't jump to the side after you fire, you'll be able to adapt if he does inadvertently move a little. Just aim a little wider with him, alright? I know he's a pain in the butt, but I'll miss him if ya kill him."
"Ha ha, Buck. That's what Vin said the last time Chris threatened to shoot you," JD quipped with a saucy grin.
Buck made a face at the younger man and then pulled him to the side to pick a fight scene and tell him what to do.
"Do I have to use the same corny dialog you did?"
"Kid, I'll have ya know those were great lines!"
Chris shook his head. "No Buck. You just thought they were. Heck, I didn't even like the lines! I was tempted to shoot you for real just to shut you up."
"Y'all just don't know pure gold when ya hear it," Buck huffed while the figures surrounding him laughed out loud.
Buck and Chris picked the easiest gunfight scene they could think of and then simplified it even more so that JD would never be in any real danger. They decided that a straight up showdown in the street would be the easiest to do and that way all JD had to do was draw and then stand still until he heard the bullet hit the ground next to him.
After they picked the scenario, Buck decided that with a lady present Chris should start with the back to the wall pose that was so popular with the women at the tourist town.
With a resigned sigh, the tall blond agreed. The 'audience' moved back to the other side of the street while the dark-garbed gunman strode to the saloon wall. The broad shoulders leaned back against the weathered wood and one long leg was pulled up so that the booted foot could rest on the expanse as well. The silver spurs jingled musically as he got into position. One hand pulled the black hat down even lower on his forehead and then the blond head tilted down until he looked at the ground. The right hand eased his duster out of the way and his thumb tucked into his gunbelt next to his Colt. When he was ready, the impressive figure froze into immobility.
JD moved up the street a few doors and then when Buck motioned for him start he strolled down toward Chris. The smaller form stopped across from the dangerous looking gunman. JD hooked his thumbs in his own gunbelt and puffed out his chest theatrically.
"Hey, mister! I heard you were fast."
The black hat slowly rose and the piercing green gaze rose with it. The woman sighed without even realizing it. The icy eyes roved over the assembled crowd and then landed on the kid, skewering him where he stood.
"I heard that too," the soft voice answered with a taunting little grin.
JD actually had to swallow a time or two before he could answer, Chris' reply was so sure of itself and the smirk so dangerous looking.
"Well, I don't think you're as fast as everyone says. I think I'm quicker. Why don't you come on out and let me prove it?"
The dark figure slowly straightened, the green gaze never leaving the man in the street.
"You don't wanna do this, kid."
"Are ya scared, mister?"
"No, I just think you're too young to die. You need to rethink this."
The brunet swallowed again, but answered with all the bravado he could muster.
"I've thought about it all I aim to mister. Ya comin' or are ya yella?"
An audible sigh floated to the audience and then the imposing figure strolled out in the street and stopped about ten paces from the kid calling him out. The right hand tucked the edge of the duster behind his back and his left moved to hold it out of the way. Then his right hand dropped to his side, fingers relaxed.
"Alright, Kid. Remember you asked for this. Draw when you're ready."
JD had been sure that facing Chris wouldn't be as hard as the leader and Buck had said, but he discovered that they were right. Looking at the stone cold eyes and steady, relaxed stance that exuded confidence, JD felt his stomach tighten, even knowing Chris as he did. Jeeze . . . no wonder the suspects they arrested started confessing just from facing Larabee. The man was terrifying!
JD swallowed again and let his eyes dart to the audience and Buck. Chris was right. He'd asked for this, so he had to trust the man and follow through, or Buck and the rest of the team would never let him hear the end of it.
With a last gulp, the hazel eyes returned to the unwavering green ones. Chris gave the tiniest of winks and when he did, JD relaxed. Chris was the best shot he'd ever seen or heard of. If the man intended to miss him, he'd miss him. It would be alright.
JD dropped his hand and reached for his gun. He was actually impressed with his speed and thought for a fraction of a second that he might have a chance.
Then as if in slow motion he saw Larabee's hand drop for his own Colt. JD was still raising his right-hand pistol as Chris' .45 came up and leveled out even with his upper chest. A part of him registered that the motion was lightning fast even as everything seemed to float around him. He actually saw the bullet flying toward him and then felt the small rush of air as it passed by his left side with a few inches to spare. The dirt erupted in a slow geyser of dust particles as the casing hit the street just behind where he stood. Realizing he would be dead if the bullet had been real and Chris hadn't been aiming to the right of him, JD simply dropped his hand, letting the Lightning twirl and then droop on his trigger finger. As if punched by an unseen hand, he folded in the middle and dropped to his knees, the gun landing unnoticed in the dirt without even firing one of the blanks Buck had given him.
As he hit his knees, things sped up around him. Chris was already dropping his Colt back into the holster, Buck was bounding over to check on him, and the others were erupting into rousing applause and cheers.
"Kid, you okay?"
Buck sounded a little worried. The big man had seen Chris' bullet miss JD and land harmlessly in the street, but JD was pale and the hazel eyes were bigger than Buck had ever seen them. It took the ladies' man speaking to him a second time before the younger man blinked and then looked up. By then JD's hero was striding toward him with the graceful movements that reminded people of a prowling panther. Green eyes looked down at him consideringly as one hand reached to help him to his feet. The unique voice was soft when Chris spoke.
"Wasn't like you expected was it?"
JD shook his head as he let the older man help him up. Buck bent down to retrieve the gun JD had dropped.
"No. I mean I could tell you weren't going to hit me, but it was like everything went to slow motion when I saw you draw. I saw you pull your Colt and fire before I could get my gun all the way up and I watched the casing come at me. I saw it go past me and hit the street. And I knew I was alright, but I also knew that if you'd wanted me to be, I'd have been dead before you even got your gun back in your holster."
The dark eyes blinked a few times and then JD got a stupid grin on his face. "Now I know why those guys we bust start babblin' before you even get near 'em! You are one freakin' scary guy, Chris!! Facing you with a gun in your hand is like staring death in the face and knowing you're not gonna get a reprieve."
The kid drew a shaky breath and then laughed almost giddily. "But I did. Thanks for hittin' where you aimed and not aimin' at me, boss man."
Buck and Chris both grinned and the dark gunman reached to pat the younger man on the shoulder.
"You're welcome JD. Couldn't lose my electronics tech. Nobody else knows squat about all that stuff."
"Gee thanks, Chris."
Larabee smirked at the smaller figure and then turned. JD looked up at his roommate as Buck handed his gun back.
"If I say I want to face Chris in a gunfight again, slap me. That was downright spooky! I think I'll leave the action to you next time."
The tall brunet draped his arm around his younger partner's shoulders and gave him a big grin.
"It does take some gettin' used to, Kid. Can I tell ya a secret? I nearly passed out when we squared off. Lookin' down Chris' gun scared the crap outta me."
"Was Chris nervous?"
"Hell, if he was I sure couldn't tell it. His Colt was rock steady. I suddenly started regrettin' every joke I'd ever played on the ol' war dog, let me tell ya!"
JD laughed as the duo joined the rest of the group. It was good to be alive.
In spite of JD's feeling of time slowing down, the whole 'fight' had lasted less than five minutes. The others were laughing and joking as the participants joined them. Everyone congratulated JD on the great job he did. The fact that the 'job' had been getting his pants shot off by Chris, didn't stop the younger man's chest from swelling just a bit. He was one of the few people who could honestly say they'd faced Chris Larabee in a gunfight and lived to tell about it. If he didn't mention the part about Chris' gun being loaded with blanks and that the intimidating gunman wasn't trying to hit him, it sounded really impressive, he thought with a grin.
The two boys made their way to the impressive form of the gunfighter.
"That was great Mr. Chris!" John gushed happily. Mark congratulated the blond as well and then looked up shyly. When the ten year old asked about Chris' gun, the tall figure pulled it out and unloaded it. Upon seeing Chris eject the shells out of his, Buck did the same. Both men knelt so that they could show the pistols to the kids and tell them about the weapons. After asking those surrounding them to move for a minute, Chris let Mark take his Colt and demonstrated the proper way to hold it. Buck helped the younger John with his .45, not sure the boy was ready to hold the heavy weapon alone. Both kids were thrilled and when Vin offered to show his cut-off rifle and Ezra popped out the spring-loaded derringer, they got even more excited.
Josiah had gotten some good pictures of the gunfights and now snapped a few of the boys with both his camera and phone. Anna was too engrossed in listening to the men to think to get her own phone out. When she realized that the big agent had gotten some photos of the kids with the gunmen, she asked him to send her a couple of them so that their father could see them.
When the men were done showing the boys their weapons, Anna offered to take some pictures of the whole group if they wanted. Pleased, the seven of them took her up on her offer, posing in front of a few of the buildings. The boys joined all of the men for a picture, too, small faces beaming with pride as their mom snapped the shot.
It was close to dark by the time they were finished, so Chris' group said goodbye to Anna and the boys. Both children thanked the men sincerely for doing the gunfight for them and showing them their guns. Mark added that the group had made his tenth birthday extremely special and he'd never forget them. The team members all wished him happy birthday and Sanchez promised to send Anna copies of the pictures he'd taken with his phone as soon as he got to where there was enough signal to do so. Buck and Ezra kissed the auburn-haired woman's hand and the others tipped their hats to her as they gathered up their things.
Deciding it was too late to change, the group headed for the vehicles as they were, spurs chiming and clothing rustling as they walked. They turned and waved at the woman and two kids who stood at the edge of the ghost town watching them, and then they climbed into the Ram and Suburban and headed to the road to finish the drive and then exit the BLM land and return to Chris' ranch.
The small convoy made good time. Thanks to the ear buds JD had provided when they started, the members of each vehicle could hear and participate in the conversation of the others. After about thirty minutes of listening to JD chatter, Chris removed his and shook his head wryly.
"Kid tells that story many more times, I'm gonna be ten feet tall and bulletproof."
Vin and Ezra grinned, since the young agent had retold the gunfight from his perspective several times already. Then with a teasing laugh Tanner started singing.
*"I start to feel like Superman, then I pick a fight…"
Chris joined in on the country song. "Only to find that my opponent's holdin' kryptonite…"
Both looked at Ezra in surprise when the gambler's tenor was added to theirs. "You'd think I'd learn my lesson, but I'm still payin' dues…"
All three sang the last verse of the chorus. "Each time I drink and start to think, I'm ten feet tall and bulletproof," Ezra added Travis Tritt's signature "Lawd, lawd, lawd," the trio of laughing voices ended the brief rendition.
Those with their coms still in heard JD in the other car.
"What's goin' on? Why are y'all singin'?"
Vin's grin got wider and a blue eye winked at the occupants of the Ram.
"Nothin', Kid. Just somethin' Chris said."
With a grin of his own, the team leader replaced his ear bud as he neared the road to the ranch.
"Just endin' a perfect day off, Kid. Just endin' the day right."
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*Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, by Travis Tritt.