by Pat

A continuation of The Skunk Chronicles

Disclaimer: Maude was not seriously hurt in this story. The Mag 7 do not belong to me (Damn!), but I sort of feel Maude is mine (inasmuch as one can "own" a skunk).. No moola being made here and no evil intentions against copyrights or the domain of others is intended. Please don't sue me. I'm nice, honest..

When you are a woman-lovin man like me, you learn to be discreet, so as not to get shot up by vengeful husbands. It's not that I'm a home wrecker. Think of me as someone who gives comfort to those whose homes are already in shambles.

Anyhow, Mrs. Sylvester had come in to town while Mr. Sylvester was out running cattle up north. She'd lit right into town and bushwacked me outside Mrs. Potter's store last night. She was in need of a little honest affection, and who am I to refuse a lady? Anyhow, on this particular evening, I felt it best to take a room above the saloon. Inez, my dusky Spanish beauty, was out of town, so I wouldn't confuse her about my intentions with poor Mrs. Sylvester. Women tend to be strangely jealous. I ain't really figured it out, but I'm working on it. And I try to be prepared for it.

So, last night I had spent the whole night consoling Mrs. Sylvester on the lack of romance and affection in her life. She needed a powerful lot of consoling, let me tell you. She damn near sucked my lungs right out, poor thing. She left reluctantly at dawn, and I stayed in bed and actually got a bit of sleep.

Then I woke up and decided to rustle myself something to eat. Inez was gone and the saloon wasn't gonna open up for hours. Town was quiet. So I went downstairs in my long johns and looked around. She'd left a good loaf of bread behind the bar and some cheese. Bless that woman. She cooks up a storm and is more beautiful than the sun coming up in the morning. Only other person here besides me is Ezra and he'll be dead to the world until at least 10 of the morning.

So there I am, trying to put on some coffee and eating bread and cheese in my long johns, when Mary Travis comes in the saloon, carrying something. I'm behind the bar, fortunately. Mrs. Travis is a beautiful woman, but I figure Chris will put his brand on her one of these days. And Mary is a good friend to us Seven.

She peers in at me, "Buck?" she asks hesitating like. It’s still a little dark.

"Mornin', Miz Travis," I say, respectful, "I'm not presentable right now, Ma'am" and touch the fabric of my long johns so she gets the idea.

Miz Travis may be a beautiful woman, but she has grit to spare, and a great left hook too. She smiles at me.

"I'll be but a minute, Buck. Josiah went out of town for a few days, and I promised to take care of Maude for him."

Right then I see that Mary is carrying little Maude, Josiah's pet skunk, with her. Skunks don't see so good, so Maude doesn't seem to notice me, but she starts sniffin and wiggling that cute little nose of hers and I think she realizes that I'm here.

"Hey, Maude," I say. Maude didn't like me much at first, but I won her over with ginger cookies. She really seems to dote on Josiah and Ezra, and now she likes all the rest of us too.

Mary smiles, "I've been taking care of Maude for Josiah, but I have to leave town and help out with Mrs. Stamples. She had twins and is in a bad way. I'm going to leave with Nathan and was hoping that Mr. Standish could take care of Maude for me."

"Shucks," I say, "Old Ezra doesn't wake up before 10:00 unless Chris threatens to shoot him. I'll take care of little Maude for you until Ezra gets up."

Miz Travis looks pretty relieved. "Thank you, Buck. I've got some food for her and I think Nathan fixed up a sandbox in the saloon for her before, since she's a regular patron. I didn't want her left unattended. She's a sweet little creature."

"She sure is," I agree, and hold out my arms for her.

It's plumb satisfying to have her nuzzle up against me instead of hissing like she did before. She was sure I was plumb loco or something and bent on harming Josiah and Ezra. Thought she'd never get over it. It wasn't till I bribed her something fierce with practically her body weight in ginger cookies that she figured out I was a friend. She's a fearless little lady.

So after I pet her up and make of her shining fur and cute little nose, I set Maude on the bar. I look in the little basket that Mary handed me and find some vittles and lay em out for Maude on the bar, while I get back to my bread and cheese and wait for the coffee.

Maude will eat just a bit, then stop and look at me. "Hey, little lady," I say, and her tiny head tilts to the side. Maude is silent unless she's really riled up, but she sure does love conversation. "Your daddy coming home tomorrow, but we'll take good care of you. Betcha like Miz Travis and Billy. He's a good boy, and knows how to treat a little lady with respect."

Damn, you'd think Maude understood every word. I pour myself some coffee and she sniffs the air appreciatively. Just the smell of good coffee makes you wake up more, and brings a smile to your face. I let her sniff at the cup and she wiggles her nose right purty like.

I start to petting her again. Maude takes to a gentle touch like any lady does. "Soon", I say, "Your Uncle Ezra will wake up and you'll get to visit with him."

Then the batwing doors swing open and four men I've never seen before come in. Even before the doors wing all the way in, I put Maude under the bar. Folks is scared to death of skunks, both because of the stink and because some of em carry rabies. I don't want em shootin Maude, Josiah would take on something terrible, and well, Hell, I think I'd miss her too. Vin says she's our mascot, which I think is just Vin and that sense of humor of his. But still, Maude really likes all of us and she seems to know we're a group somehow. After all, she walked the whole way from Josiah's church to Chris' room and fetched him to help Josiah when he'd been beaten and left for dead. Skunk like that deserves the best we can give her. Hell, I'm half scared to wake up Chris and she snuck right up on his chest while he was sleepin' off some redeye and woke him up nose to nose. Wish I could have seen it.

Anyway, these four men come in. I smile at em, and say "The bars closed, boy."

"Damn," says one, tired like. "I had my whistle all set to be wet with some whiskey."

Well, I can understand that. Nothing like a nice whiskey when you've been on the trail awhile.

"Aw, hell, Boys. I know where the whiskey is. I'll play barkeep for ya."

They all smile at this and mosey up to the bar while I get some glasses and whiskey out. They throw their money down and talk. I'm about to open my big mouth and start asking questions, when I see something that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Lit'l old Maude is showing her teeth at those men and shaking. Her tail is pointed at em just like she pointed it at me when she thought I was layin in wait for Josiah and Ezra at the bath house. She gives a little hiss and looks loaded for bear - and I realize. Maude only hates people that she thinks will hurt Josiah or Ezra. These son of bitches must be the ones that beat the hell out of Josiah and left him for dead.

I'm thinking as fast as I can, while I pour em the whiskey. My gunbelt is up on the bed with my clothing and Inez took her rifle with her when she went visiting. I don't have a damn thing to use to get the drop on these men.

I smile as charmingly as old Bucklin can and asked em, "Staying in town, boys."

"Nope," one says, kicking back his whiskey with a sigh, "We're heading to California, just stopped in for a shot or two."

Now once they left, I'd have to run upstairs and grab my guns and by that time, they'd have a damn good head start.

I'm thinking I'm going to have to make due with just that when I look down at Maude, who is obviously madder than hell. She sets quite a store by Josiah.

Quick as a wink, I know what to do. I grab little Maude (and don't you worry, I'm careful. She may be a skunk, but she's a true lady). I point her business end at the four no goods and yell at the top of my lungs, "Reach for the sky, boys, she's loaded for bear!"

And Maude, who is smarter than most people, turns and hisses at them.

Now, like I said before, people are more scared of skunks then they are of rattlesnakes. The four bastards jump back, turn whiter than Ezra and reach for the sky.

"Don't move an inch," I threaten, "Or this here skunk will make you wish you didn't have noses."

Maude's got the idea. She actually growls and flashes her tiny little teeth at em.

I hop over the bar, Maude in hand, and am trying to go for one of their guns before it occurs to them that I'm not armed when Ezra Standish shows up at the head of the stairs, gun drawn. Damn that man is fast. He's got his fancy pants and suspenders on and not a hair is out of place.

"Mr. Wilmington," he says, cool like, "kindly assist me in disarming these reprobates and please inform me why we're arresting them?"

Hell, Ezra's timing is impeccable. I put Maude, who is stiffened up and mad as can be on the bar, and take away the reprobates' guns. These boys can't tell which to be more scared of: Ezra with his gun or Maude, who is glaring something fierce at em.

"Ezra," I say, "I think we've just caught ourselves the dirty dogs who beat up Josiah."

Ezra comes down the stairs all gentlemanly and looks mad. He had been really worried about Josiah while he was laid up. Josiah told me he'd taken as good a care of him as Nathan did.

"I can see what you mean, Mr. Wilmington," he says. "I do believe we should check these gentlemen's possessions and see if any of the things they stole are there."

Well, the four scalawags clam up good at that. We march em to the jail. I'm not taking chances, so I don't go and get my pants, and I know we look a sight, Ezra in his pants and me with Maude in my long johns. Iffin Nathan hadn't fixed Maude so she can't spray, those boys would stink all the way to Yuma. Mrs. Potter comes out of her store, gets a look and gasps and drops her broom. Yosemite comes down the street and looks and busts out laughing.

J.D.'s at the jail, and pretty soon we get all four of em behind bars. There's stuff from Josiah's church in their saddlebags; Hell, they even stole a bible. Some folks just got no shame.

J.D. runs back to the saloon and gets my britches and Ezra's shirt and vest. As soon as he's fully dressed, Ezra picks up little Maude and pets her. "I'm going to return Maude to the saloon. She is most discomfited by these cretins."

She crawls right up and looks over Ezra's shoulder at the men who are sitting in their jail cells and hisses once more just to make her opinion clear.

+ + + + + + +

The next week, the Judge comes in to down to try the four scalawags, who claim they just found those saddlebags full of money and figured it was okay to take.

Judge Travis is unhappy. "I dislike judging these men based solely on circumstantial evidence. Are you certain you didn't get a glimpse of them, Mr. Sanchez?"

Josiah shakes his head. "They got me from behind, your Honor," he says respectfully.

Josiah is seated there with Chris, Vin, and me. Nathan is still gone with Mary nursing those twins. J.D. is off someplace with Ezra. J.D. comes in and goes up to the Judge with his hat in hand and whispers in his ear. I don't know what J.D.'s up to, but we take the four no goods back to jail.

Then the front door swings open and Ezra comes in with Maude in his arms.

Ezra walks up to the Judge, "Judge Travis, here is a witness. Maude is the only one who saw the men assault Josiah. She is very fond of Mr. Sanchez and a very friendly and affectionate creature with most people. However, when she sees those men who attacked Mr. Sanchez, she shows great evidence of distress."

Old Judge Travis puts his fingers to the top of this nose right between his eyes and pinches tight. "Mr. Standish, Mary wrote me about how this little skunk went and got help for Josiah. It’s a very touching story. I also heard about how she reacted to our Mr. Wilmington when she thought he presented a danger to your persons. I think you idea bears merit. Please bring her here."

Ezra carries Maude all gentle like up to the table with the Judge, and Judge Travis holds his hand out so Maude can sniff it. She delicately sniffs the air and looks peaceably up at the Judge, who smiles. He pets her and you can see she likes both being petted and likes the Judge.

"Well, Mr. Standish, I think its plain that the skunk is a good judge of character," says the Judge with a smile and Chris and the others commence to grinning.

J.D. and I bring the prisoners back in through the back door. Maude is standing on the table in front of the Judge, and he's stroking her fur. She's rubbing her head against his hand and pleased as punch at the attention. Then she freezes and sniffs the air. Quick as a wink she comes to all fours and points her whole little body at the four prisoners. Her little tail curls up forming a question mark that points right at them. And to top it off, she growls that kitten baby growl of hers.

Judge Travis looks a mite surprised, "I have never seen a witness point out criminals so dramatically," he remarked.

"It's that damn polecat!" said one of the prisoners.

Judge Travis points his gavel at him. "You watch your mouth," he says warningly. "The court accepts this special witness' testimony and you are hereby found guilty of attempted murder, theft, looting and desecration of a church."

He doesn't bang his gavel, so as not to bother Maude, who is still looking fighting mad. "I'm sentencing all four of these ruffians to five years in Yuma prison. Court adjourned."

After we put the low down dirty scum back in their cells, we all go to the saloon, Judge Travis included and sit at Ezra's favorite table, where he has a good view of the front door (and a quick exit through the back, too, I might add. Ezra always calculates the odds.)

Inez is back in town by now and she brings us all a bottle of whiskey and glasses and pets Maude, who is making up to the Judge (I said she was smart).

By this time, most folks have heard that the skunk helped put them four no goods away, as well as about her fetching help for Josiah. So instead of the crowd keeping away from us, they all walk by and dip their hats to the little lady, respectful like. They know that she can't stink up the saloon, and Nathan has told em she don't have a chance of catching rabies, so Maude is on her way to being right popular.

She finally gets tired, though, and walks across the table right up to Josiah, gets up on her hind legs and looks at him. He smiles down at her and lowers his head, and Maude gives him a little skunk kiss right on the nose. Then she scratches at his serape and he stuffs her underneath so she can see everyone. We all sit there drinking whiskey, glad to be alive, and watch as Maude falls sound asleep.

Ezra is sitting across from Josiah, next to the Judge, and he smiles at Josiah with that gold tooth of his a shining.

"They say that no good deed goes unpunished, Mr. Sanchez, but I think you and Nathan rescuing Maude has paid off handsomely," he says, "She is not only charming, but astoundingly brave. I thought she would leap from the table and actually bite those cretins."

Judge Travis busts out chuckling. "You know," he remarks, "They want me back in the territorial headquarters to assign a deputy, and I know how you boys feel about that. I think," he says, and takes out a little shiny deputy's badge, "That we'll just appoint Maude as Four Corner's Deputy, at the rate of a dollar a year. That will take care of the territorial government quite nicely."

Vin and Chris damn near fall out of their chairs a laughing and Josiah tries really hard not to laugh so as not to disturb Maude, but eventually he starts a shaking with laughter, and Maude wakes up and decides to see what's making us laugh. Judge Travis tosses the badge to Josiah, and Maude crawls out and investigates the badge, which is shiny and pretty iffin you're a skunk. She sniffs it and noses it all over and then curls around it and falls asleep again. It's been a long day for a baby skunk.

"Well, boys," I say, "I guess that means she accepts your appointment, Judge Travis. Welcome to law enforcement, little lady."

Judge Travis raises his glass, and the rest of us do too. "To Maude," He says, "Four Corner's newest peacekeeper. Long may she keep us under her protection." Everyone nods but we keep silent. Maude is asleep, and even brave deputies need their sleep.

The End