Below Par

By Yolande

Part Twenty-Two


Buck Wilmington resisted the urge to set his grey into a gallop; such an act would draw unnecessary attention, and they could do without that.  Instead, he leaned low in the saddle and hugged close to cover, returning quickly to the Wells ranch. 

“Trouble’s coming!” he loudly announced, thumping through the house until he reached the single room where he found all four lawmen.  If he was surprised to find Vin out of bed, he didn’t show it. 

“Buck,” Jackson groaned.  Doesn’t anyone around here heed his warnings? 

“We need to get those two outta here now.” Buck spoke decisively, not taking his grim countenance off the gunslinger. 

 “How long?” Chris mentally tallied how long it would take to make a clean retreat. 

“Fifteen…twenty minutes tops…couldn’t see Josiah or JD.” 

Larabee nodded his head once.  “Buck, can you saddle the horses…” 

“You can’t be serious?” Nathan exclaimed.  “You can’t go putting either one of these pair on a horse.” 

“We don’t have time to argue, Nathan,” Larabee moved to follow the ladies’ man.  “Get them ready.” 

“Speaking for myself…I’ll be fine,” Ezra swung his legs off the mattress and began tugging on a clean shirt and casually glancing about for his boots. 

“And I made it this far,” Tanner grimly added. 

“Fine,” the healer threw up his hands in resignation.  “Ezra, wait here, until I help Vin outside…And I mean it!” he barked.  “Don’t move your backside off that bed until I return.” 


Part Twenty-Three


Larabee raced back inside straight toward the gambler’s room.  “Time to go, Ezra.” 

Standish tugged his pants over his hips, and panted.  “When I am sufficiently attired, Mr. Larabee.” 

“Don’t have all day,” he groaned tossing the crumpled jacket at the Southerner.  

“I need my boots…” Ezra sighed, awkwardly manoeuvring his arms into the sleeves of his jacket. 

The gunslinger spied them and dropped them by Ezra’s feet.  They both lifted their gazes to the doorway hearing the heavy tread approaching the room.  Buck appeared. 

“He ready?” 

“Yes,” Ezra answered for himself, and slowly with a staggering gait, took a step. 

“Gonna take all day if we let him set the pace,” Buck chuckled, and took it upon himself to escort Standish outside, guiding and half carrying Ezra while the younger man complained quite loudly.  

“Vin, Ezra?  You guys alright?” Nathan hovered anxiously at the heads of Peso and Chaucer, after loading his patients onto the backs of their prospective mounts. 



“Buck…” Larabee began, swinging into his saddle. 

“Don’t Worry, pard.  Ole Buck, knows what to do.  You an Nathan get them out of here.” 

Chris hesitated, uncertain about leaving Wilmington to fight off the horde…but there shouldn’t be any problem once the mob realised Vin and Ezra were not a threat to the community and never had been and were not in attendance.  “Talk ‘em around, Buck.  No heroics, huh?” 

The ladies’ man grinned and saluted, tipping his hat and watched the group slink out of sight.  He hadn’t asked where they were headed; it was probably better that he didn’t know.  “Don’t go hard ridin’ those boys…hear?” 


Part Twenty-Four


Buck Wilmington brought out a seat and set it on the veranda.   He placed it so, when he sat down he could recline it backwards on the hind legs and stretch his long legs out on the rail.  He covered his face behind his ten-gallon hat and patiently waited.  And by all outward appearances, he was neither concerned nor bothered by the pack that was closing in on the ranch.  He was quietly confident.  He didn’t shift an inch, not even gave them a quarter as the rabble came into sight.  He appeared to be sleeping. 

Maurice Kirby led the charge.  Somewhere between organising the rout and reaching the ranch, Douglas Browning had conveniently disappeared, like a rat returning to its hollow.  But he’d done his job and incensed enough men to keep the momentum going.  There was, and had been, plenty of booze spread among the fourteen combatants.  The free for all had liquored them sufficiently to listen to Browning, and believe his proclamations of death and ruination, in the first place.  Now they lurched and grumbled indignantly though a haze of alcohol.  “Lawman!  Stand aside!  We’re planning on torching this place!” he shouted angrily.  

Buck remained unmoved in the chair. 

“You want to join your friends in the hereafter… then stay by all means,” Kirby chuckled, grinning about at the sea of faces that nodded in agreement. 

Wilmington slowly unfolded from the chair and leaned casually against the support post for the roof.  “You fellas all feel the same way?” he questioned the group backing Kirby, secretly wondering how the young troublemaker managed to gain this position of authority.  

Calmly Buck nodded at the easy agreement of the mob.  He took two steps from the porch and advanced on the group.  “It’s a crime to torch someone’s property,” he said.  “Hennessey…” he pointed a finger accusingly at a balding man off to one side, “How you gonna explain to Nettie and her niece what you did to their home?”  He knew that Job Hennessey and Nettie Wells had been neighbours for years and had a solid friendship, if nothing else. 

He stuttered, uncomfortable with being singled out.  “She’ll understand…” 

“What’s that?” Buck shouted, cupping his hand to his ears pretending he couldn’t hear the softly spoken words.  He continued to stalk the group, walking further into the yard.  The mob had drawn together and not moved to approach the house since Buck’s frontal attack.  “Oh…you saying Nettie won’t mind being forced to accept homelessness?  Leaving her to support her young niece and survive without this place?”  He pursed his lips and pressed his point further.  “I don’t suppose it even matters to any of you that Vin and Ezra ain’t sick…” 

“We all heard what happened in Cortez,” a voice cried anonymously from the back.  “We’re just trying to protect our families…” 

“Killin’s a crime too…” Buck paused for dramatic effect.  “Reckon you might want to think things through a bit more…think what your families are gonna do while yer all doin’ time in prison…will be leaving a lot of lonely women an’ children to fend for themselves…” 

“He’s just stringing us along!” 

“Yeah?” Buck took another menacing pace forward.  Out the corner of his eye he noted Josiah and JD riding up on the troublemakers; the preacher’s face was drawn and weary and there was a trail of blood lingering down the side of his cheek.  “Dane…How you gonna explain this to your ma and pa?” he questioned the youth; Dane Fergus was younger than JD Dunne. 

Dane opened and closed his mouth, no words came out.  Guiltily he remembered why he’d come into town; his pa was waiting for him to return with the fencin’ supplies for their corral.  Swallowing hard he shamefacedly attempted to slip toward the back and hide behind the crowd. 

Wilmington ignored the man-child; perhaps his humiliation would be enough.  “What about you, Jarvis, Miles and Arnold…ain’t you got better things to be doin’?” 

The crowd was becoming restless and the grumbles grew, mainly from the back.  They shifted restlessly uncertain of the reasons that held them to this cause.  Several of the group inched away, wondering if they’d be noticed if they quietly returned to town. 

“Don’t listen to him…will only be his word against all of us,” Kirby half-heartedly protested. 

“That right?” Chris Larabee parted the group down the middle, riding his black and joining Buck.  He winked at Buck and smiled; none of this could be seen by any of the hostiles behind his back though.  The gunslinger turned and faced the crowd.  


Part Twenty-Five


Larabee glared at rabblerousers.  “You got homes where you belong?” he growled, leaning forward in his saddle.  “I suggest you return to ‘em while you still got the chance,” Chris threatened.  

Much of the fight had already been sapped from the mob, but Larabee’s threat sealed it.  And to their further consternation, a weary wagon rattled down the road and cut off any immediate thoughts of escape. 

Nettie Wells was utterly shocked; there was no other description.  She scanned the crowd, putting names to faces, all of whom she recognised.  She gasped, disappointed beyond belief.  “Job Hennessey, Pete Arnold, Tye Reynolds…” she wiped her mouth as she continued to account all the bodies.  Her eyes widened when she spied the young Fergus child among the ranks.  What was the world coming to? 

The first thing she had noticed were the unlit torches, touching the ground.  At least they hadn’t been set alight or her home would be cinders by now.   She continued to stare at the group; their discomfort was easily discernable.  “Why?  Why would you do this to me?” she wanted answers and she looked to Hennessey to supply them.  She noticed he was uncomfortable with speaking for the group.  But why should she make it easy on them? 

“Heard Tanner and Standish were held up out here…” 

Agilely, Nettie jumped from the wagon, making a show of drawing out her carbine from under the seat and nursing it.  “And what’s it to you who I ask to stay at my place?” 

“No offence, Nettie,” Job smiled grimly.  “But you probably ain’t heard that they are carrying the sickness…” 

“Balderdash!” she cried and aimed the heavy weapon at the centre of the crowd.  “I expected better of you folks…listening to idle gossip…” 

“Then if they ain’t got it, why has Jackson been tending them…and why’s he doin’ it out here, real secret like?” Kirby asked, regaining some of the fervour. 

“And why did you and yer niece spend the night in town?” 

The older woman glared at the impertinent man.  “What right do you have accounting my whereabouts?  Is it uncommon to expect that I might be getting on a bit?  That riding into town to get supplies is wearing on old bones?  Should it be too much to ask that I take my time and spend the night in town before headin’ back here the following day?” 

“That don’t explain why ya left when Tanner turned up.”  It was common knowledge around town that the spritely old woman held the tracker in a firm regard. 

“A young man don’t need me hovering when he’s not feeling well…and I had already made arrangements that couldn’t be put off,” she lied. 

“So you just let them,” Kirby sneered, “have the run of your place?” 

“I trust them.” 

“This was as far as Vin could make it,” Buck interrupted, knowing Nettie was trying to protect them, but not knowing all the facts she might inadvertently dig them deeper.  “He was sick, not with putrid fever, but ‘cause of his appendix…Nathan had to take it out…” The rest was none of their business.  He watched a collective shudder run over the group. 

Larabee smiled a thankyou at Buck, pleased with the result as the stragglers awkwardly apologised to Nettie Wells and stumbled back to town and eventually home.  “Got a way with words, Wilmington.” 

“Just say it as I see it.” 


Part Twenty-Six


Nathan led Peso and Chaucer by the reins; he didn’t trust either man to handle their mounts.  They’d probably ride out on their own if allowed.  He grinned at Nettie Wells; he’d been close enough to the ranch to hear most of her arguments and was pleased with the outcome.  What he would have loved to witness was Buck’s performance, but he’d been down by the river arguing with Vin and Ezra while that confrontation had taken place.  Those two, he sighed, would make a saint commit murder.   The minute Larabee turned back they were on him, presenting their case to defend themselves, not wanting to be hidden away and protected.  Would they listen to him though?  NO, of course not!  The two fools, as sick and injured as they were and only starting to recover, made it impossible for Nathan to lead them to safety.  All they’d managed to do was circle around Nettie’s ranch and return as the troublemakers were leaving.  Thankfully there would be no more injuries to treat.  And the most pressing matter now was to return his patients to their beds.  “Vin, take yer time…slowly does it.” 

Tanner rolled his eyes sharing an amused look with the gambler.  He eventually touched his feet to the ground. 

“You need help gettin’ Vin inside?” Nettie asked Jackson. 

“I got it, ma’am,” Buck jostled past to assist Tanner.  “No fancy footwork there, pard,” he chuckled. 

“Thanks, Bucklin,” Tanner sighed.  He wasn’t keen on having an audience while he crawled between the sheets, especially Nettie and Casey.  

“No trouble.  Glad I can do somethin’ useful finally.” 

“Right.”  Nettie Wells studied the gambler, frowning at the pallor of the Southerner and the untidy, not to mention stained and crumpled jacket. Never had she seen the Southerner looking quite so…unkempt.  It was a guess, but after raising three of her own boys, tending her husband and now looking after Casey’s welfare, she felt she earned the right to judge people…even if it was a little.  The young man did not look well. “Mr. Standish…will you be joining us?”  For a sickening moment she wondered if Standish had the throat disorder. 

“Damn right he will be,” Jackson hollered from inside.  “Don’t let him go slinking off.” 

Ezra glared at the unseen healer, embarrassed by the attention.  He smiled brightly at his host.  “I believe I’ve already outstayed my welcome… and my own bed is beckoning.”  It felt like an eternity since he’d slept in his own bed, and it was comforting to realise that he actually wanted to return to town. 

“He sick or something?” Nettie questioned a little nervously of the gunslinger who had been content to stand by up ‘til now and observe the proceedings. 

“Got himself shot.” 

Ezra moaned and glared at Larabee.  

Nettie handed over the Spencer Carbine to Casey and stalked up to the Southerner.  “Shot hmmm?  Then why in tarnation is he still sitting in that saddle?” she asked no one in particular.  “Mr. Larabee, could you help me get him inside?” she fussed. 

“Yes ma’am,” Larabee grinned. 

“I’m fine…” Ezra grunted as Chris all but pushed him from the saddle.  

“That why you can’t stand up straight?” Nettie asked. 

Ezra grimaced, baring his teeth.  He hugged his middle, but allowed the elderly woman on one side and the black clad gunman on the other to escort his weary body indoors.  “I could have managed on my own,” he protested. 

“He always this disagreeable?” Nettie asked. 

“Worse,” Chris agreed, ignoring the look Standish bestowed on him. 

“Harrumph…and where will the lovely ladies retire?” 

“Casey don’t mind you taking her bed…she can go back into town and spend the night with Gloria Potter…and you ain’t got to worry none about me.”  Her estimation of the Southerner rose a notch at his question. 

With a drawn out sigh Ezra collapsed onto the mattress.  When he was finally alone he considered that taking a nap now didn’t seem such a bad idea.  He could return to town in the morning. 


Part Twenty-Seven


Nathan Jackson softly closed the bedroom door; his tread was deliberately quiet as he stepped away.  He joined his co-workers in the main body of Nettie’s house; it smelled like heaven even in such a short time.  His nose sniffed the air and his stomach grumbled in appreciation.   “Smells wonderful,” he praised. 

“Take a seat, Nathan.  I’ll fix you a plate.” 

“They sleeping?” Larabee asked. 

“Ezra is…Vin’s not.” 

Chris finished cleaning off his plate; Nettie Wells surely knew how to fix a meal, and pushed back his chair patting his belly contentedly.  “He want some company?”  Jackson nodded and the gunslinger left his position at the table.  He took a few steps and, without bothering to turn, announced; “Josiah’s got his skull cracked, Nate.”  He left the kitchen listening to the preacher attempting to talk his way around Nathan’s ministrations.  Larabee laughed, and disappeared inside another room. 

“Hey, Chris.  Feel like I’m missing somethin’ out there.” 

The gunslinger grinned, more so at the sour face the tracker was pulling.  “Nathan’s just found himself another patient.” 



“What happened to him?”  Vin frowned; he thought there hadn’t been any serious contact with the mob and the seven. 

“Said it happened in town.  Got a bit rough.  Someone brought a shovel down on him.” 

Vin winced.  “Ouch.  He gonna be fine?” 

“Yeah…Josiah’s got a thick skull.  How you doin’?” 

Tanner crossed his arms.  “Can’t believe I gotta stay in bed after he,” Vin referred to Jackson, “let us both out to ride.” 

Chris covered his smile.  “Ezra’s sleeping.” 

“He is?” Vin asked incredulously. 

“Yep…tell ya what…I’ll bring a wagon out tomorrow and fetch you both home…you can fight with Nathan over where he wants you to stay…Deal?” 

Vin nodded, slipping down into the mattress.  “Don’t reckon it will hurt any to rest up some.  Thanks Chris…fer everything.” 


the end


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