Below Par

By Yolande

Part Fourteen


“Chris, what are you doing here?  I thought I made it clear…” 

“Nathan,” Chris stood in the doorway, momentarily drawn to the pale features of Tanner laid out on the bed.  Swallowing, he shifted the weight in his arms. “Ezra collapsed…you might want to take a look at him.” 

“Casey’s room…” Jackson directed. 

Chris turned knowing Jackson was a step behind.   Larabee damn near had apoplexy when Standish collapsed outside.  He was taken aback by the fear that surged through him and was astounded by his reaction to it.  When had he started thinking of the gambler in terms of friendship?  That he couldn’t pinpoint.  “He’s burning up, Nathan.” 

Jackson confirmed this for himself, testing his hand on the gambler’s forehead. 

“So has he got this, distemper?”  First Tanner, now Standish. And he was trapped inside the ranch with them now also. 

Jackson continued to assess the unconscious man, berating himself for his treatment of the Southerner.  Had he known…but what would he have done?  Nathan had no answers to that question.  He flipped back the gambler’s jacket and groaned at the bloodstains on his shirt; most was dry and stiff, but some was fresh.  He gently pulled the shirt open and shook his head awry.  “Damn fool, Southerner.” 

“What?” Chris leaned over the healer, trying to see past his broad shoulders. 

“He’s been shot!” Nathan explained, pulling off the bandages that Standish had applied.  “It went through, a bit more ‘an a graze, but he’s lost his share of blood and now it’s infected.”  Of all the stupid things to do…  “Does he have some sort of death wish?” Jackson muttered.  “Damn him!  He shouldn’t have been doing half the things I had him doing.” 

“Too late now.”  Only a loyal friend would put his own needs aside in favour of another.  That thought came as a shock to the gunslinger; if he’d been asked, he wouldn’t have put money on Standish taking such a risk – it’s not what he expected of the conman.  He could see the same sentiments in Jackson’s eyes; he hadn’t thought Ezra capable of such an act either.   Since when did Standish risk his life for one of their group?  Chris’d do it without a second thought; Tanner and Buck probably would too.  The others?  Larabee shifted from one foot to the other.  Would each of the others willingly give their lives in order to save another?  Perhaps they would…so why didn’t he assume Standish would do the same? Chris wondered if Tanner knew Standish was hurt – probably not.  “What you want me to do?” 

“You should be leaving, Chris.” 

“He got the sickness?” 

“I don’t think so…” 

“And Vin?” 


“Then I ain’t leaving you in here with two patients ta take care of.” 

“Much obliged, Chris.” 


Part Fifteen


Larabee dropped his feet to the floorboards and sat straighter in the chair.  He watched Tanner toss his head to the side and fight the effects of the drugs.  A low moan whistled passed his lips and eyelids pealed back revealing unfocused eyes.  “Morning,” he greeted and offered a glass of water before the tracker could respond. 

Tanner flicked his eyes open wider and fought to concentrate on the voice calling him to attention.  When his focus cleared, he smiled.  “Larabee?”  Ugg?  Was that him speaking?  He licked his lips and cleared his throat to speak again.  “What’s goin’ on?” 

Chris chuckled, but covered the gesture behind his hand.  “’Bout time you woke up.” 

Vin winced and lowered his hand under the covers to find the source of his pain.  It wasn’t nearly so bad, more of an ache now.  He felt the thick binding around his lower half and grimaced at the tenderness beneath.  “Nathan?” 

“He’s here…been mighty worried about you.” 

“He was gonna cut inta me?” Tanner frowned, attempting to piece together his sketchy memories. 

“He done that yesterday…been waiting since for you ta rejoin us.” 

“Why’re you here?” As his head cleared more, he distinctly remembered Nathan stating that no one else was to come close in case he had caught some disease. 

“Nathan says you don’t have putrid fever, and he needed some help.” 

“Already knew I didn't have it.  Ezra?” 

“He’s sleeping,” that was all Tanner needed to know at present.  “Want some broth?  Got some cooking in the kitchen…” 

“Nah… belly feels a tad queasy…I’ll take some more water though.” 

“Here ya go.”  Chris stayed with the tracker until he settled back to sleep, then he slipped out to make some lunch for himself and Nathan. 


Part Sixteen



Jackson replaced the cloth in the basin and sighed in appreciation.  “That for me?” His mouth watered as he eyed the plate of sandwiches on offer. 

“If you don’t mind sharing.” Larabee set the tray on the small table and almost swallowed the first sandwich down whole.  Lord he was hungry!  “Vin was awake, but he’s gone back to sleep now.” 

Jackson sighed, and rolled his aching shoulders.  “He seem fine to you?   You should have come and got me…” 

“Weren’t no need for that…gave him some water and he took it okay and we talked for a bit.  He was hurting some, but he ain’t got a fever. He didn’t want any broth and then he went back to sleep.”  Chris glanced at the Southerner on the small bed.  “How’s he doin’?” 

The healer grumbled.  “Should have treated this before it got so bad.” 

Chris shrugged.  “Don’t s’pose we gave ‘im too many options…” 

“He could have still said something.” Nathan shook his head. 

“Reckon he was worried about Vin.  He was awful anxious to have you look at Tanner.” 

“And if we’d let them come into town, I’d have had Vin up in the clinic, but Ezra would have skulked off to his room and it might have been too late by the time we’d found him.”  Jackson swallowed back the rising lump in his throat.  If they hadn’t waylaid the two lawmen and diverted their course to Nettie’s, it would have been a foregone conclusion that Tanner would have died.  Nathan wouldn’t have performed the operation; he would have done his best to entice a physician to attend, but by the time one arrived, Vin’s appendix would have ruptured.  He would have died in agony and Ezra wouldn’t have stood any better chance.  They would have been burying, not one, but two of their friends.  Realising this for the first time, Nathan grinned.  If they hadn’t intercepted Vin and Ezra, their chances of survival would have been foreordained. 

“What are you grinning at?” 

“Just thinking that I don’t feel quite so bad about stopping ‘em from coming into town.” 

Larabee returned the smile.  “You want me to sit with Vin?” 

Nathan wiped the Southerner’s face and tossed the rag to Chris.  “You mind staying here while I change Vin’s bindings?” 

“Sure, go.” 


Part Seventeen


“Reckon they are gonna do anything, Josiah?  They seem awful restive.” 

Sanchez folded his large arms across his chest and by all appearances seemed relaxed, but his body was tense and prepared for action.  “Yep.” 

“Reckon I should go out and warn Chris and Buck…let them know what’s going on in town?” 

Josiah squinted at the growing group of malcontents.  Troublemakers, the lot of them.  It only took one man to get them all fired up, and they’d have a lynch mob on their hands.  And Browning was just such a man.  Sanchez couldn’t even logically place him at any of the homesteads or ranches; he seemed to appear out of the woodwork to spread his filthy words.  He was a typical roustabout with no family or connection to the town, but he’d worked the dozen or so men into a frenzy, scaring most of them with the prediction of death.  And damn Quinton Doyle!  Mouthy old telegraph operator!  He should know better than spreading rumours around town, particularly when it involved the seven.  But it was too late now to stop the news circulating; it would be up to them to contain it.  “No, JD.  You go ask Casey if she could let them know.  Make sure nobody sees you talking with her or sees her leaving town.” 

“Right!” Dunne jogged to the back of the jail and inconspicuously made his way to the hotel.  He didn’t feel right leaving the others in the dark, especially not knowing how these galoots would react. 

Sanchez threaded his way towards the group; his fists clenched spasmodically while listening to the drivel spouting from Browning’s mouth. 

“Are we gonna let them bring disease into the community?” Douglas Browning shouted and a murmur of grunts answered his call.  “I’ve seen it before…it only takes one and before long the whole town is nothing but a ghost town.  And there’s nothing we can do to stop it…your wives, children, neighbours and friends all drop dead at your feet, until there’s nobody left to bury the dead.” 

Josiah pushed aside the crowd and joined Browning on his platform.  “There is nothing to fear, and,” he sneered at the rabblerouser, “there ain’t no disease being brought into town.” 

“That so?” Maurice Kirby cast about angrily.  “What about Tanner and Standish?  We all know they’ve been exposed.   The folks are dropping like flies at Cortez.”  The crowd rushed forward, loudly grunting their agreement. 

“Yeah…where are they then, if they ain’t dying?  We know they’ve been secreted off somewheres…” 

“I say we burn ‘em out…it’s the only way to get rid of it,” Browning hollered to be heard over the uproar.  He smiled sadistically at the round of applause this statement received. 

“NO!” Sanchez cried, unable to understand the ruthless assault.  “That would be taking lives of innocent men!” 

“They ain’t so innocent…” another growled.  “Heard Tanner’s got a bounty on his head…and Standish ain’t nothing but a cheat.” 

“We only got to get rid of them and we’ll be safe…” 

“Ain’t gonna hurt no one else…” 

“NO!  Listen to yourselves.  You’re planning on murder…this isn’t going to help,” Josiah implored. 

“It ain’t murder if it’s self defence!  And that’s what this would be,” Browning shouted.  “It’d be in everyone’s interest.” 

“Here, here!” the crowd agreed in chorus.  The preacher’s protests were lost in the uproar. 


Part Eighteen


“Sounds like a rider coming in fast.” Larabee stood and leaned against the window.  He couldn’t see beyond the tree that grew too close to the house and curiosity gave his legs inspiration to look further a field.  When he reached the front door he leaned on the doorjamb waiting for the rider to come into view.  He saluted Buck, acknowledging the ladies’ man with a wave.  Wilmington, too, was alert to the approaching rider.  Larabee relaxed marginally as the girl came within sight.  “Nathan,” Chris called over his shoulder, “It’s Casey.” 

From within the depths of Nettie Wells’ room, Jackson replied, “Don’t let her come inside.  And you need to stay here.”  Not that he thought it possible, but there was still the chance that the two lawmen were carrying the disease. 

Larabee watched from the veranda while Buck talked with Casey.  The young girl was nervous and kept glancing his way.  Buck paid him no heed and patiently listened to Casey, then he helped her into the saddle and slapped the horse’s flank, watching until they disappeared from sight.  Something was up, he could sense it.  “Buck?” 

Wilmington removed his hat and wiped his forehead on the sleeve of his shirt.  “Things are getting pretty hairy in town,” he answered.  “Group of troublemakers want to take things into their own hands…think it’s best to burn them out,” Buck lifted his chin and pointed meaningfully behind the gunslinger. 

“Hell!  They don’t even have it!”  Well that was Nathan’s latest opinion; at least the healer was contemplating the notion.  “Do they know we’ve got them out here?” 

Buck shrugged, wouldn’t take a genius to put two and two together.  “You want me to head back into town?”  

“Nah, Josiah and JD are there.  If they can’t handle it, then we’ll need all the help we can getting this lot out.” 

Buck agreed.  He’d not wanted to leave his oldest friend, but if Chris had requested it of him, he would have followed.  He was worried about JD, but he at least had Sanchez with him.  “We gonna move ‘em out?” 

Larabee sighed.  “I’ll talk to Nathan, see what he says.” 

Buck placed the hat back on his head and finger-combed his moustache.  “How they doin’?”  He’d been sitting out here for an eternity wondering what was going on inside the ranch house.  He’d had little sleep as he worried, not only for Tanner and Standish, but Nathan and Chris also, wondering if they were all going to surrender to the illness.  Now Chris was saying that neither man had the disease, hopefully this was true.  Then there was thinking about JD, and not knowing what was happening in town that ate at   him too.  Now this!  He prayed Josiah and JD Dunne could handle the mob and calm them down. 

“Vin’s doing fine…woke up a couple of times and is a might sore.” 

“And Ezra?”  Watching the panicked gunslinger hurtle across the yard to catch the Southerner as he collapsed had repeated on his mind throughout the night.  And if Chris hadn’t moved so quickly, it would have been Buck who was inside the Wells’ home.  It was hard sitting on the fence line waiting for information. 

“He got himself shot.” Chris held up his hand, waving aside the obvious query.  “No, I don’t know how it happened or when.  Nathan says it was a few days back.” 

“He okay?”  The concern was obvious in his voice. 

“Running a fever and totally out of it.  Nathan doesn’t reckon they have the sickness though.” 

Buck sighed with relief.  “Then I can come up?” he asked taking a step toward the stairs. 

“Not yet.” 

“Sure…I’ll go scout down the road a ways and keep an eye out for trouble.” 

“Thanks, Buck.” 


Part Nineteen


Larabee hung around the doorframe.  “Might have trouble brewing in town,” he informed the healer. 

Jackson sat back in his seat and frowned at the gunslinger.  “That gonna affect us?” 

“Could.  They ready to be moved?” 

Jackson rose abruptly from his seat.  “We can’t move them…Vin’s just had surgery, he’s not going to be fit to be moving for about a week; don’t want him bustin’ his stitches…and Ezra…we’d have to carry him out,” Nathan stated, gesturing at the patient laying in the bed.  

 Chris followed the directive, his lips curling into a grimace.  “He don’t seem so restless…” Thinking the Southerner’s calmness had to be a sign of improvement. 

Nathan reluctantly agreed with the gunman’s assessment.  “I’ve nearly got the infection cleared up and his fever’s broke, but he ain’t up to leaving that bed.” 

As though to dispute the healer’s point, Ezra rolled his head to the side and his eyes fluttered open.   He licked his lips and groaned softly.  

Nathan slipped back beside the bed.  “Ezra?  You hear me?” 

Standish winced, wishing he hadn’t returned.  “Quite clearly,” he whispered. 

“You know what happened?” Nathan prompted. 

Ezra glanced around the room, a brief flicker of surprise passed though his eyes as they registered Larabee holding up the doorway, then he returned them to Jackson’s concerned face.  He couldn’t hide his weary countenance and didn’t bother to try.  He smiled wryly and shrugged his shoulders.  “A small refresher course perhaps,” he hinted hopefully. 

Larabee snorted from his position and earned a rebuke from Jackson. 

“You mind telling me how you managed to get yourself shot?  And why you didn’t bother to tell me?” Nathan asked seriously. 

Ezra’s eyes widened and he sat forward.  “Vin?” Instantly regretting the move he gasped, bending at the waist and grabbing his side in pain. 

“Idiot,” Nathan muttered and gently pushed Standish back to the mattress.  “Now lay quiet, and don’t go undoing my good work!” he reprimanded.  

Chris walked inside the room and sat on the opposite side of the bed.  “Vin’s doin’ okay, but you were the one who had Nathan in a dither,” Chris confided, squeezing Ezra’s knee through the sheet.  “You gonna answer Nathan’s question now?” 

Still fighting the remains of the fever, Ezra frowned at Larabee, confused.  “What question?” 

Jackson groaned and threw up his hands.  “Who shot you?” 

“Oh…. I don’t know,” Standish sheepishly admitted. 

“How could you forget something like that?” Jackson growled impatiently.  “I’m going to check on Vin.” 

Ezra followed the healer’s progress out the room.  Resisting the urgent need to sleep he stared at Chris puzzled.  “Did I say something to offend him?” 

Chris chuckled and shook his head.  “How could you forget getting shot?” 

Standish sighed collapsing into the comfort of the mattress.  “It’s not that I have failed to remember the incident, but more a case of not realising it had happened until later.”  Seeing that he’d failed to convey this properly he took a deep breath and recommenced.  “When Vin and I approached Cortez, we were welcomed with a committee of armed defenders.  They fired several shots to deter our entry…and I can only conclude that I…was wounded during that confrontation.” 

“Vin didn’t know?” 

Ezra shook his head.  “Hell, I didn’t know myself until after we’d left the vicinity.”  Adrenalin could do that to a man. 

“Why didn’t you tell Vin?” 

“Mr. Tanner was already feeling poorly.  There was no reason to inconvenience him with my problem.” 

Larabee grinned; he would have done the exact same thing.  “And Nathan?” 

The gambler closed his eyes and the answer was a long time coming.  “I don’t know,” he eventually answered.  “Do you mind if I rest now?” 

“Go ahead.  You mind if I keep you company while you sleep?” 

Standish smiled and raised his eyebrows inquisitively and opened his eyes, curious to see the expression worn by the gunslinger.  Why would Chris want to remain with him when Vin was in the other bedroom?  “Why?” 

Chris grinned.  “Thought you might appreciate someone to act as a buffer between you and Nathan while he’s hovering.”  Seeing the struggle Standish was having accepting his offer, he relented and made the decision for the gambler, making himself comfortable in the straight-backed chair.  “Relax, Ezra, everything’s gonna be okay.”  Or so he hoped. 


Part Twenty


“Hey, Nathan,” Vin greeted, sitting up on his elbows and attempting to sit upright.  “Ohhh…” he moaned. 

“Vin, take it easy,” Jackson admonished.  “I need to change that dressing, do you want anything to help ease the pain before I start?” 

“Nah,” Tanner shook his head and pushed down the sheet to expose the white bandage.  There was a small amount of ooze in the centre, but it didn’t hurt as much as it did when he woke earlier.  He watched quietly while Nathan cleaned the new wound and replaced a fresh bandage over the site.  After he’d seen the incision line he changed his focus instead to watch the myriad of emotions that crossed Nathan’s face while he worked.  Then cocked his ear listening to the sounds throughout the house.  Somewhere beyond his room, he could hear Larabee and Standish talking and wondered for the first time why Ezra hadn’t been in to see him and why Chris was in the ranch house when he vaguely remembered Nathan isolating them.  “Where’s Ezra?  Don’t tell me that after everything, he’s afraid he’ll catch somethin’ from me?”  

Nathan paused for a moment, but the alert tracker noticed the slight hiatus.  “Ezra’s resting,” he prevaricated. 

“Heard him talking to Chris a moment ago…What’s goin’ on Nathan?” 

Jackson sighed.  He couldn’t lie worth a dime, who was he kidding?  Tanner would catch him out easily.  “Ezra was shot…” instantly seeing his mistake, the healer forcibly held the struggling Texan to the mattress.  “You ain’t goin’ anywhere.  ‘Sides, it weren’t too bad, but he was running a fever ‘cause it wasn’t seen to properly… though he’s doing a lot better now.  You ain’t gonna be able to do anything for him,” Jackson iterated, barricading Vin’s escape from the bed.  “The best thing you both can do is stay resting in bed.” 

“I want to see him.” 

“Vin you will stay in this bed!  You’ve just had your appendix removed and I can’t guarantee that you won’t have complications.”  Until Tanner was walking around unhindered and his colour had returned, Nathan wouldn’t be satisfied that he’d done the right thing in performing the surgery. 

Tanner stilled under the dark hands, biding his time.  It suddenly occurred to the tracker the importance of what Jackson had done for him.  Not only had Nathan originally assumed that he was carrying an illness, and that hadn’t prevented the former slave to put aside his qualms and voluntarily treat him.  But when it was found that Vin required surgery to treat his bout of appendicitis, the healer performed the operation alone, and without any support.  Yeah, he knew Ezra would have been helping, but it was still Nathan who held the knife and cut into him.  Vin tentatively touched the bandaged site.  “Thanks, Nathan…for everything,” 

Jackson relaxed, his shoulders sagging a little and a small smile showed his pearly white teeth.  “I just hope I’ve done it right.” 

“Reckon ya did.  Don’t s’pose I’d be here now if ya didn’t fix me up when you did.” 

Nathan closed his lips tightly, his face losing the elated expression.  Vin would never know how close Jackson had come to not performing the operation.  He’d been so scared of failing and uncertain of his own abilities.   “Prob'ly should thank Ezra, too.”  

“Yeah, I will…so… where is he?” 

“Casey’s room…Chris is with him.” 

Vin smiled slightly.  “If you help me, I won’t bust nothin’ I oughtn’t.” 


“Then I’ll just have to go it alone when I get a chance…” 

The tall man shook his head in disgust, knowing this was exactly what the stubborn fool would do.  Why did he have such difficult patients?  “Maybe, later on…after you’ve rested some more.” 

Tanner grinned.  “Deal.”  For now.  “How did he get shot?” 

Jackson snorted.  “He doesn’t remember.  Happened a few days back.” 

“While it was just the two of us?”  At Jackson’s affirmative nod, Vin frowned in concentration.  Had Ezra been shot in Durango before they’d left town?  Vin couldn’t recall Standish looking any worse for wear, but he had been keen for Vin to remain longer in Durango…but no…that was because he himself had been under the weather and Standish had been attempting to delay their departure so Tanner could regain his health.  Would Vin have noticed if Ezra was hurt?  Obviously not, he berated himself.  “Where was he shot?” 

“Left side…bullet went straight through.” 

Vin let this information soak in.  The injury had to have been hidden under the gambler’s jacket.  Why didn’t Ezra say something?  He wouldn’t have argued about going into Cortez… “That’s It!” 

“What’s that?” Nathan asked distractedly as he collected the used bandages together. 

“It happened at Cortez…I recollect at the time thinking Ezra was kinda rough dragging me off Peso…” 

“He did what?” Jackson exclaimed. 

“Those idiots were firing over our heads, trying to keep us out…musta been one of those hotheads that got Ezra…” It also explained why the Southerner had been out of sorts that night and the following day.  Damn!  Tanner had put Ezra’s mood down to the incident in general and his own ailment worrying Standish.  “Come on, Nathan.  Just a few minutes…” he pleaded. 

The healer sighed and shook his head. 


Part Twenty-One


Larabee jumped to his feet, astonished to see Vin being guided into the smaller bedroom.  He moved to the opposite side and helped Tanner shuffle inside and slowly take the seat that the gunslinger had just vacated.  “What are you doing up, Vin?” 

Not taking his eyes off the sleeping Southerner, Vin answered.  “Come visitin’.” 

“Wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Jackson supplied. 

“Ya sure he’s doin’ alright?” Vin questioned the healer.  In his opinion, the gambler’s complexion looked an unhealthy grey. 

Larabee grunted, drawing Vin and Nathan’s eyes.  “Should of seen him yesterday.” 

“If you gentlemen are going to insult a person while he is in the same room, I suggest you depart,” Standish drawled. 

“Hey, Ezra…” Tanner grinned. 

Standish glanced at Vin, letting his eyes take in the picture before him.  “Mr. Tanner, I trust you are recovered?” 

Vin held his right hand protectively over the new wound and winced as he adjusted his position.  “Nathan done a good job…said it was my appendix…” 

“And you should be still in bed recuperating…” Jackson griped. 

“How is it that Vin’s allowed out?” Standish wondered out loud. 

“Weren’t me that got shot!” Vin challenged with a glare.  “I’m figurin’ it happened at Cortez…That right?” 

Standish bobbed his head slightly, mildly amused by Vin’s indignation.  He didn’t get a chance to respond. 

“Damn it, Ezra!  Why didn’t ya say something?” 

Standish shrugged.  He raised an eyebrow at the amused expression worn by the gunslinger.  Not wanting to rehash this again, he opted for digression.  “It was a little difficult to get a word in while you were expelling your stomach contents,” he chuckled, wincing and holding his side as his mirth caused some discomfort. 

“That’s enough,” Nathan ordered.  “You’ve seen each other, now I want you both to get some rest.” 

Vin scowled at the gambler…why did he have to bring that up…reminding the healer that the Texan was, and had been, extremely ill?  Now he’d have to sleep away the day…it wasn’t natural sleeping away the daylight hours.




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