Make Way For Vin
Vin had only been back in town for a day, and he was still taking it a bit easy. His leg still ached more than he would admit to himself, let alone to Nathan or any of the other peacekeepers. He was mostly hanging out in and around the Saloon, not drinking really, just visiting and relaxing with the guys. But during the last hour or so he'd begun to wonder if he shouldn't have spent a few more days out at Nettie's place, he was hearing things. Now if he'd been drinking it wouldn't have bothered him, but he was still nursing his second beer.
It had started shortly after he'd sat down...just a little noise, almost like a soft quack, at first he hadn't even noticed really since he was used to hearing little quacks out at Nettie's but this wasn't Nettie's and there weren't any baby ducks here. Not that he didn't miss them if he thought about it, he'd grown quite fond of the little quackers. The last few days he'd been there he'd taken his lunch out by the pond, sitting cross-legged in the grass sharing his sandwich, eating the filling open face while he shredded the second slice of bread and doled it out to the gang. That is until Nettie caught him and started slipping an extra slice or two onto the plate she fixed for him.
There it was again...he turned, looking around to see if he could find out where the noise was coming from. Buck, noticing his glances wandered over and joined him... "Lose something Tanner?" he asked as he peeked under the table.
Vin turned back, shook his head and sighed.."Nah, jest thought I heard somethin'."
Buck grinned then, "What ya hear Vin?"
The grin was a mistake, Buck realized, when Tanner's eyes narrowed as he put two and two together. "It's you I been hearing for the last hour isn't it?"
Buck tried to play dumb but the grin just kept getting bigger, until Vin punched his arm and warned him that there was payback coming and he could easily be included.
"Okay... ya got me..." Buck finally conceded, then he leaned in closer. "What ya got in mind for JD?... Its gonna be good isn't it?" he nudged the smaller man then, "Come on, let ole Buck in on the plan." he cajoled.
"Nope" Tanner replied concisely.
"I know something you want to know..." Buck taunted, "I'll swap, come on, what ya gonna do?"
"Fess up, Buck," Vin countered. "Or for sure you'll get a piece of the payback." His glare as he stalked after the ladies man rivaled Larabee's, but Buck wasn't fooled, and he wasn't about to give up JD's plan, it was too gonna be too good to miss.
"Sorry, Vin," the ladies man added, "but you know I can't tell, JD'd never forgive me."
"Yeah, and he'd find a way to make you pay too." Vin shook his head, realizing that he was gonna be the butt of duck jokes for the foreseeable future, at least until something happened to divert the attention elsewhere.
He left the Saloon, heading for the jailhouse where Chris would be today, not that the current resident needed much watching, but they always kept someone around when they had a prisoner.
He'd barely gotten past the Potter's store when he realized that people were looking at him, pointing, staring, and laughing.
He turned to see if someone had attached something to his backside and found Billy Travis and several of the other local children following him in a line, waddling like ducklings.
As he turned, the children, laughed, shrieked and ran off in various directions.
He tried to be mad, but it really was funny, he just wished that there weren't so many people watching him as he turned bright red.
By the time he reached the jail most of the snickers had died down, but the look on Chris's face told him that he'd also witnessed the event.
"Jest shut up, Larabee." he growled out, wondering if he'd been in on the prank along with Buck and JD. If he was, he'd be in on the revenge he was plotting even now.
Chris just smiled when Vin asked if he'd helped Buck and JD arrange for the "parade" so Vin decided to let it go for now, figuring that he'd deal with the traitor later.
They sat on the boardwalk in front of the jail for the rest of the afternoon then headed down to the boarding house for dinner where Vin found a plate of stale bread crumbs at his usual place. He returned JD's smirk with a look that clearly stated his intention to return the favor, but it didn't really bother the younger man, he was just having too much fun at Vin's expense.
The rest of the evening was pretty normal, they headed over to the Saloon after dinner and stayed there, drinking and playing a friendly game of cards. There weren't many strangers in town this week and the local ranch hands usually only came in on the weekends since their duties usually commenced early in the morning. It was only about nine P.M. when Vin rose and headed down the street for his weekly visit to the bath house.
He stopped at his wagon for clean clothes on the way, and upon entering the attendant waved him back to the last stall on the end. It was the most private tub in the building and the one that the shy tracker preferred.
The water steamed invitingly and the tired man quickly dropped his dirty clothes and climbed in, only to immediately jump out as he was bumped by something in the tub.
He turned back to peer into the tub as he heard the chuckles coming from the next stall. The small wooden duck floated innocently on the water.
"Ya know I could'a hurt myself jest now!" he complained to the curtin that hid his giggling tormenters.
That statement a mistake, since it only served to increase the laughter. He reached in then and grabbed the offending article and pitched it over the curtin.
"Hey! watch where ya throw that thing," Buck yelled, "You could hurt someone!" he continued, causing the rest of the men to resume their chuckles.
"Har har, Bucklin," Vin responded as he crawled back into the hot water. "Jest remember, yer on my list."
"I'm shaking in my boots, Vin." the laughing ladies man continued..."What ya gonna do, send yer flock of ducks after me?"
Vin ignored him and laid back in the water, sighing as the heat eased him sore muscles. He sighed then and whispered to himself "Yeah, Bucklin, maybe I will."
The duck pranks had pretty much ended, with JD and Buck both pushing things as long and far as possible. But the thing that was causing Chris and the others to wonder, was that there had been no retribution. Vin had been back in town for almost three weeks and had pretty much gotten to the point where he'd let the snickers roll off his back like...well, water from a duck... and that wasn't normal.
Anyone who even remotely knew the tracker and his history of pranks knew that something was about to happen, should have already happened. In fact, both Buck and JD had taken to creeping gingerly around corners, sure that something was about to drop on them. Doors were approached with suspicion and carefully checked for buckets of water perched atop. Bedding was well shaken before either man lay down to sleep. In truth, the tracker was doing an excellent job just by doing nothing.
Well, nothing but planning.
Vin Tanner was a patient man and the amount of teasing he'd endured for the past weeks needed to have an appropriately extreme response. And good plans took time. Besides he was quite amused watching the two men creeping around waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The other reason for the delay was that some of the necessary "equipment" wasn't quite ready for the event. Just a little longer and all would be ready.
The next day as Vin strolled toward the Saloon for his morning coffee he noticed that Buck and JD were both up and sitting in front of the jail. When the two men noticed him they waved hello and headed over to join the tracker for breakfast.
"So, Vin," Buck opened, "You're finally ready to take patrol again." He knew as well as anyone that the Texan would have been out at least a week sooner if Chris and Nathan hadn't insisted that he wait.
Vin only smiled, ignoring the barb, as he replied. "Nah Buck, I was jest having too much fun watching you have to get up at first light. Seemed a shame to spoil yer fun." He knew that Buck's late night assignations had been severely curtailed in order for him to be up and able to replace Vin on those early assignments.
"Yeah, don't I know it," the big man grumbled, thereby recognizing that Vin had won the round.
"So, why are ya up this early today, Buck..." Vin continued "Seein' as I'm back on the job."
It was Buck's turn to grin, :Up? - Hell Vin, I haven't been to bed....er to sleep yet, what with Miss Molly keepin' me company last night..." he trailed off suggestively.
By this point they had arrived, gotten their coffee and were about to sit down to breakfast when Chris arrived.
"Morning boys," he mumbled to the group at large, then took Vin by the arm and pulled him to the table in the far corner.
"Nettie just got in and asked me to tell you that everything is ready." He paused, looking suspiciously at the tracker, "What's up?"
"Nothing you need to worry about, Chris." Vin replied, eyes twinkling, "Jest might better stay clear of Buck and JD fer the next day er so."
The blond shook his head, this was gonna be good, he'd keep his distance, but he'd also keep his eyes on the two. He could hardly wait to see what the tracker had cooked up.
Vin was out on patrol for most of the day, making a few extra stops along the way. Thus he arrived back in town later than was usual. Heading for the boarding house, barely in time for the dinner provided with their rooms. Although Vin rarely used his room, he usually took advantage of the meals. The rest of the seven were already seated, waiting for the food to be delivered to the table.
"Hey, Vin," JD called out as he arrived, "You sure took a long time out there today."
"Jest needed some time after being cooped up in town with ya all fer so long." He replied casually and dug in as his favorite meal of chicken and dumplings was placed on the table.
It had been another long day, and most of the men were ready to turn in fairly early. Buck headed down to the bath house since his latest challenge, the lovely Miss. Charlene had wrinkled her nose at his advance, demanding that he bathe before asking for her attentions. He arrived, and like Vin, headed for his favorite tub, not the one in the back that the tracker preferred, but the middle one since it was the largest, deepest one, thus able to accommodate his larger frame. He was waved on in and settled back for a long soak.
Back at the boarding house Vin was busily preparing for the night's events. It was the middle of a slow week, therefore the perfect time for his revenge. He'd already made several trips in and out of the building, using the back entrance so that he wouldn't be noticed.
True to plan it was only a few minutes later that he heard the wail coming from down the street. Anyone who was already in bed wouldn'd be for long with the noises that were emanating from the bath house.Vin headed down the hall, the noise from the bathhouse still echoing in the background. As he reached the stairs he met Chris who lifted his head slightly in an unspoken question. Vin grinned, "Yeah, sounds like I got Buck." Chris returned the smile and asked for details.
"Well, Chris, do ya remember a few weeks ago when Mary tried to dye that old dress of hers..." he paused as Chris nodded, smiling at the memory of the pretty blond's embarrassment at having cornflower blue hands for almost a week. Then it dawned on him. "You didn't!"
"Oh yeah, I did, our ladies man is really gonna have blue balls for a few days, not to mention blue legs, toes, buttocks and anything else that was in the tub for more than a few minutes.
Larabee just stared at the errant tracker then erupted into chuckles that grew into a full belly laugh. Finally, leaning against the wall wiping tears from his eyes he managed to regain control. "He's gonna shoot ya Vin."
"Nah, not Bucklin," the smug Texan replied, "He may sound mad, but Buck's the mellowest guy around, he'll be okay."
Chris shook his head, "I don't know Tanner, you're playing with fire." He would have continued but Vin stopped him, dragging him down the stairs. "I gotta see this." Vin said as he headed out the door, still pulling his friend behind.
"Are you nuts!" the blond stopped, and by virtue of the grip on his sleeve, Tanner did too.
"C'm on, Chris, we're gonna miss it," Vin persisted.
Larabee remained unmoving. "From what you said we got a few days to observe the results, and I for one would rather face him after he's had a day or two to cool off."
"Aw, Hell, Chris." Vin whined, "You going yella' on me?"
"Not unless you're planning on spiking my bath pard." Chris responded with a grin.
Vin looked at him then, paused as if considering the act, then shook his head, "Nah, I gotta come up with something really good fer ya, sides I doubt you'll be getting in any o' them tubs fer a while after this. Chris simply shook his head.
With that they headed across the street to get a nightcap.
By the time JD had reached the bathhouse he was really worried that his friend and mentor had been seriously injured, he'd never heard Buck make so much noise before. JD therefore surmised that the big man must be in real agony.
He rushed up the steps and into the building, and was met by a scene that he'd never forget. There was Buck, standing in all his naked glory, in the middle of the room, dripping wet and BLUE. From the shoulders down, he was a bright, livid, blue. Which contrasted quite nicely with his bright red face as he continued to bellow out his indignation.
For a moment JD stood in the doorway stunned, then he fell on the floor laughing so hard he could barely breathe.
"Oh, God, Buck..." the young sheriff gasped out, "He got ya good...."
Buck stopped then, staring at his disloyal, unsympathetic so called friend. "Yeah, he did, but if he did this to me, just think what he's got planned for you, after all, I'm only the accessory, you, my boy, are the main target.
JD stopped laughing. The look on his face causing the jolly blue giant standing in front of him to start laughing himself. By the time Buck was dressed his good nature had once again taken control, that plus the fact that once dressed one could barely tell that he was mostly blue. JD had finally stopped snickering and although he knew that Vin would no doubt eventually get him too, he was pretty sure that he was safe at least for today. Together they headed to the Saloon for an a well deserved drink.
Vin and Chris were sitting at their usual table when the other men arrived. Buck put on an air of outraged innocence for "suffering" at the hands of the tracker. Unfortunately, no one felt particularly sorry for him, they'd all watched him and JD tease Vin for several weeks and most thought it was high time for payback. Vin just smiled at the big man.
Ezra was playing a quiet game of cards with a traveling merchant and a couple of locals who hadn't yet learned no to.
A little while later as Chris pulled out his pack of cheroots, Vin asked if he would go to the bar and get him another drink since his leg was aching.
Larabee should have realized that something was up, since Tanner never asked for help, but he'd had a few drinks and wasn't really paying attention. He returned shortly and sat, placing Vin's beer and his own whiskey on the table as he sat. Leaning back he pulled out a cheroot and lit it, taking in a deep lungful of smoke.
"You were right about Buck," he conceded, remembering the pranks he and his old friend used to play on one another, no matter what he'd done to the man, Buck had never stayed riled for more than a short time. Granted, he usually got even later, but never was he mean.
Vin nodded his agreement and scraped his chair back, away from the table, to lean against the wall. From this vantage he could see the whole room, and in just a few moments, he would want to see everything.
Chris drew in one more long pull on the cheroot when suddenly there was a loud bang and colored flames shot out from the end. Larabee jumped up, knocking the chair down in his haste as all eyes and several drawn guns turned his way. The guns were re-holstered once the reason for the noise was realized. The offending article was now laying on the floor, still producing a weird greenish smoke and and occasional popping noise.
The only person in the room that didn't look surprised was leaning against the wall grinning.
"Son of a..." Too irate to continue Larabee sputtered to a halt as he realized that Tanner had been fully aware of his participation in the recent rash of shenanigans, even if he had pretended to only be an innocent bystander.
Buck's laughter echoed across the room, causing the gunman to glare and respond. "You know people with blue buttocks shouldn't throw stones..." which only caused his old friend to laugh all that much harder. He sighed, sat down, chugged his drink, and shook his head. "Should'a known I wasn't safe..."
Tanner just kept grinning. The cheroot was well and truly dead, stomped quite soundly by the only slightly irate Larabee. In truth he felt he'd gotten off quite easily, after all, he could be a bright color. He stared at the remaining cigarettes in the packet on the table and silently debated the wisdom of lighting another. He decided that he really didn't need a smoke that badly, but glared at the still grinning Tanner anyhow.
Vin didn't miss the look, and in fact, had expected it, after all Chris had to be wondering if the rest of the pack had been tampered with. He was glad that he'd taken time to get to know some of the Chinese railroad workers, the old apothecary had all sorts of interesting items that a prankster could employ to good effect. He particularly liked the thick green smoke that hissed out at the end.
Buck and JD were still snickering periodically as they finished their drinks, everyone had had a few extras tonight after all that had gone on. Now they were all beginning to look a bit bleary eyed and ready for bed. Vin decided to make the first move, hopefully putting the rest, particularly JD at ease.
"Well, boys," Vin drawled as he stood and stretched, "It's been a long day, I'm gonna turn in."
Goodnights were exchanged and over the next half hour everyone, except Ezra, who never turned in 'til much later, had filed out and headed to their respective rooms, or in Vin's case, his wagon.
He waited for a couple of hours, then crept out of that wagon and headed for the back stairs at the boarding house. The room that he rarely used was just down the hall from JD's, and a porch that ran the length of the building provided a discrete method of entry for the agile tracker.
He didn't notice that Ezra had been sitting in the darkness, waiting for him to make his move when he'd left the wagon. The gambler had followed at a distance, not planning to interfere but curious none the less as to just what Vin had planned for the young sheriff.
The tracker was on his third trip, delivering his surprises to JD's room, when he crawled back into his own room for the final load. Finding Ezra sitting on his bed grinning was the last thing that he expected.
Ezra had listened at the door for quite a while, hearing the younger man moving in and out of the window. After he'd left the last time the conman had picked the lock and entered the room to find the strange collection waiting by the window, obviously one of several loads that Vin was placing in JD's room.
After Vin's heart had returned to a semblance of it's normal rhythm, Ezra asked the obvious question.
"If you will excuse my ignorance, Mr. Tanner," the dubious man gestured to the crate on top, "But are not they going to create an unpleasant odor?"
Vin grinned at the Southerner and replied in a lazy drawl. "Nah, probably not, not unless they feel threatened."
At Ezra's skeptical look Vin shrugged, and crawled back out pulling the last of his extensive collection out behind him.
Ezra winced, smiled, planned to be elsewhere for the next several hours and left.
After his work was done Vin headed back to bed, ready for some well deserved rest, he'd worked hard on all aspects of his pay back, but JD's had taken a lot of running around and he wanted to be up and about in the morning it when JD woke up.
Vin and Chris were usually the first one's up, except when Larabee was hung over, then he was one of the last. Today, however they sat side by side on the boardwalk sipping coffee and greeting the day in silent contemplation.
At least until the screech from the boarding house shattered the silence.
Larabee just shook his head, this was gonna be another one of those days. He knocked the burning end of the cheroot he'd been smoking out, one from an unopened pack, and followed Tanner as he headed across the street.
JD had woken a bit slower than usual, the extra drinks had really knocked him out, he rarely had more than a beer or two. He stretched, then jumped, as his hand encountered something moving at the head of his bed. As he sat up in the dim room he could see numerous "things" moving around on the floor, and the bureau, and...and...everywhere. That's when he'd screamed.
Buck had been up and shaving at the time, so the scream was still echoing in the room when the older man barrelled into the room, breaking the flimsy lock without even realizing it.
As the open door shed more light on the situation, JD could see just what it was that had invaded his room. Then blushed at the knowledge that he'd screamed at being surrounded by kittens. Well granted there were a LOT of kittens, dozens and well, lots of them, but they were still, kittens. Baby cats, and some of them were really pretty cute, just look at that little longer haired black one with the big white blaze down it's back....
"Aw Hell, Vin..." the young sheriff began, as the culprit appeared in the door. "Some of those are skunks!"
"Yeah," the Texan replied, "Ain't they cute."
By now several of the kittens had wandered out into the hall, including at least one of the "black and white" variety. Several other boarders had come out of their rooms to find out what all the noise was about. One thought the kittens were pretty cute until he saw the special one. His own yell sent several other residents out of the building, and drew the attention of Mrs. Jones, the owner.
It was clear by the look on her face that she was unhappy about having numerous kittens roaming around the building. "Mr. Dunne..." she bellowed as she reached the landing. "You know as well as everyone else here that there are no pets allowed on these premises."
JD cringed, then tried to defend himself as the innocent victim, but the older woman was hearing none of it. He was thoroughly scolded and told in no uncertain terms that he would remove every creature form the premises immediately. It was quite apparent that this was the one woman, West of the Mississippi who didn't melt and the sight of a kitten. Hell, even Larabee had picked up one of the furry bundles and was stroking the soft fur and cooing at it. At least until he realized that Vin was staring at him with a smile on his face. Seeing that he'd been caught out he tried to pretend that he was just helping JD round up the "pests".
Vin knew better.
It took most of the morning to round up all the furry bundles, tame and wild and return them to their respective homes, Vin was happy to help. And without scaring any of the potentially smelly ones.
It was later that afternoon when one of the local children "threatened" JD with a small orange kitten that Vin knew that he'd indeed gotten his payback.
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