Lone Wolf Series
JD Dunne sat lethargically, his
legs draped over the arms of the chair. He wiped his brow, and
licked his lips, grimacing at the salty taste. “Why’s it gotta
be so hot?” he whined. Even in the shade it was hot and sultry.
He wished for a thunderstorm, but the sky was clear and it didn’t even
promise the hope of rain any time soon.
Wilmington smiled, then chuckled.
He continued to fan his face using his hat. “Thought you’d be
cavorting down at the swimming hole with Casey…”
Dunne jumped from his chair, a pink
flush creeping over his cheeks. “Geez, Buck, that ain’t no way
ta talk about…” he lowered his voice and leaned closer to the
ladies’ man, “…Casey.”
Buck laughed loudly, dropping his
head back over the seat of his chair.
“Besides,” Dunne shrugged
unconcerned, “all the kids use that swimming hole.” Ain’t no
way he was going down there when it was packed with the young children.
He was an adult now, and it was expected that he act like one.
“You ain’t no more’n a kid
yerself,” Wilmington teased.
JD glared at the older gunslinger.
“There’s another swimming hole
a little ways out of town,” Tanner quietly spoke.
“There is?” JD spun to face the
tracker, a broad smile highlighting his youthful features.
“Where is it?” he asked enthusiastically. “I don’t recall
hearing about it.”
“You wouldn’t have…it’s
kinda tricky to find,” Vin admitted. “Can give you
Buck spewed his beer from his mouth
and across the table. “Vin, you of all people should know that
giving the kid directions would only get him lost.”
Dunne glowered at Buck. “I
know how ta follow a map,” JD protested.
Tanner looked at Buck and over to
Dunne, shaking his head, and then back to Buck. “Ain’t on no
map. Tell Chris, JD and me are going out for a bit,” he grinned.
“Hey, I’ll find it…” the
protest landed on deaf ears.
“Be ready to leave in ten
minutes, JD. I’ll meet you at the livery.” Tanner paused
in the doors of the saloon. “That’s if ya still want to go?”
“Um, yeah,” he shrugged.
Anything to get out of this heat…and if he could have a swimming hole
all to himself, why would he argue? He gulped the remains of his
warm beer and raced outside after the disappearing tracker.
The two lawmen had been following
the dry riverbed for half an hour. A stiff breeze brought with it
the decaying smell of something dead. And after another five
minutes they discovered the remains of a horse.
Dunne held his breath, rubbing his
nose furiously and nudged his bay to go faster past the rotting mass.
He glanced over at Vin and wondered how the smell didn’t seem to
affect him. He swallowed, forcing his body to take a breath
through his nose, and again his nose wrinkled at the foul stench.
“It’s not around here, is it?” Damned if he’d enjoy his
swim if he were constantly sucking in foul odours.
Tanner smirked at JD’s antics.
“Nope.” Vin was beginning to wonder just how much water they
would find in the hole once they reached it. The last time he
passed by, there was at least a small trickle running down the now dry
riverbed. Well they’d come this far; they might as well check it
out, even if it meant returning home without JD’s requested swim.
The riverbed widened out, and both
sides were lined with an assortment of firs, aspens and cottonwoods.
Shade from the trees spread completely over the width of the pool.
A shimmering mirror lay beckoning, and at certain points, it reflected
the rays of sun that managed to steal through the foliage.
“This is it?” Dunne dismounted
and led his horse to the water’s edge.
“Was higher, the last time I came
through,” Tanner nodded. The water level had dropped
significantly over the past week, but it hadn’t yet become stagnant.
It couldn’t be any more than a foot high at its deepest. He
glanced at the younger man to determine what was running through his
mind, and held back the laughter as Dunne began shrugging out of his
gear and tossing it on the bank.
“You coming in?” Dunne
rolled in the swallow water, kicking and splashing. He ducked his
head under the shiny surface, and pursed his lips squirting a fountain
of water from his mouth. “It’s great!” he laughed.
“Ah come on, Vin. You don’t know what ya missing.”
“Thanks all the same, JD.
Reckon I’ll sit this one out.” Tanner shook his head, and
gathered the reins of both horses leading them to a grassy area under
the shade. He ground tied the mounts and found a spot high on the
bank that overlooked the area where JD swam. He removed his
fringed jacket and rolled it into a ball, using it as a cushion under
his head and laid down closing his eyes. It didn’t take long for
the stirrings of sleep to override his senses.
After Tanner rested, he woke
languidly; the soft splashing sounds that he drifted off to sleep with
were now absent. Coming quickly awake, he straightened and hovered
over the edge of the bank in search of his young friend. Seeing
the pool of water empty, with not a ripple of movement on the surface,
he took another step closer to the edge. Not paying attention to
where he placed his feet, he suddenly found that the soft ground
crumbled beneath his weight and he slid down the short drop-off. A
muttered squawk passed startled lips as Vin lost his footing, followed
by a hearty yelp as a branch slid up the inside of his pant leg, ripping
the material as he fell. The branch finally snapping with a loud
crack, but not before it had opened up his trousers from the hem to his
groin. He groaned inwardly. Cursing he checked his leg for
any wounds, thankfully, other than a few bruises he was not hurt.
And JD had not witnessed the accident. Although how to explain his
damaged clothing. He groaned again.
Tanner had landed, feet first, with
his boots resting at the edge of the crystal clear water. Only a few
inches of water covered this area. A dry humourless chuckle left
his lips. Deciding that now was the time to climb out before Dunne
found him in this state, he stood, putting his weight back on his feet.
The change of weight distribution caused his feet to sink deeply in the
soft ground, bringing the level of the water to his knees. “Aw
hell!” He wriggled his toes in his boots and attempted to pull them
free, but a sucking sound and a few bubbles on the water’s surface was
the end result. Tanner tugged harder on his legs, resorting to
using his hands in an effort to dislodge at least one on his limbs, but
still the gooey mixture held him firmly. It had been quite
deceptive, the thin layer of water that disguised the deep pit of mud
just below the surface.
The more he struggled, the deeper
he sank into the thick brew. The once clear water was now a cloudy
cocktail and he squirmed with the slick sensation of mud clinging to his
exposed skin. “JD!” To his chagrin, he finally gave in
and admitted he needed help from the young gunslinger. Hell he
would be swallowed, if he didn’t enlist help to get out.
“Hey, Vin,” Dunne’s voice
came from directly above him; a note of mirth was noted in his response.
Tanner was so caught up in his
problem that he hadn’t heard the younger man sneak up on him. He
jumped and immediately overbalanced, landing on his backside amid the
“What cha doin’, Vin?” Dunne
asked innocently, peering over the drop off.
“What does it look like?”
Tanner growled in return, picking up a handful of mud and flinging it in
“Hey!” JD squawked and scooted
away from the edge to avoid the clump. “You ain’t gonna get my
help by doing that.”
“Get a rope, will ya, JD,”
Tanner ordered in a no nonsense tone of voice.
“Well I could…but it’s gonna
cost ya,” Dunne bargained.
Vin gritted his teeth and tried
removing his legs from the sludge, but now that he was seated in the
mire, he only slipped further into the hole, and to his dismay brought a
round of laughter from JD. Where did this devious streak come
from? Vin suspected that Dunne had been hanging around Buck
definitely too long. “Alright, JD. What’s it gonna be?”
Dunne smiled deceptively, creeping
back over the ledge. “All you gotta do is tell the guys that you
had to come ask me for help.”
“I ain’t doing that!”
The others would laugh him out of town. Here was Vin an
experienced outdoors man, having to rely on JD, a relative greenhorn for
“Guess you can get out of that
too,” JD pointed at the sticky mush. He waited a beat and
shrugged his shoulders, before disappearing from view.
“Wait, JD,” Vin called.
It galled him to have to beg, but he wasn’t getting anywhere on his
own. “Okay. Just get me out of here.”
“You’re gonna do it?”
“Yes, dammit! Now get that
“Your word as a Tanner?”
“Yes, yes, yes!” Vin growled.
Dunne tossed the rope down and tied
the other end to the saddle horn on his bay. He led the mount away
from the grove of trees. JD clutched his stomach as peels of laughter
erupted at the sight of the muddy tracker that climbed over the
embankment. “Geez, Vin, reckon you need that swim after all.”
Tanner disposed of his clothing
and slipped into the refreshing pool. He scrubbed at his body,
determined to rid himself of the mud. Once he had completed the
task, Tanner rubbed his skin dry with the blanket JD tossed him.
“Reckon you’ll be riding back
to town wrapped in that,” Dunne chuckled, pointing at the blanket.
Vin’s eyes widened to saucers,
not previously considering his lack of trousers, boots or shirt.
He glanced at the ruined pants and wondered if he could wash them out.
His boots were still stuck in the muck, and his shirt, although not
nearly as bad as his pants, was also coated in a thick layer.
“JD, you got any spare clothes?” he asked hopefully.
Dunne rubbed at his stubbled chin
and thought for a moment. “I do have a pair of pants…but…”
“Well get ‘em!” Tanner
interrupted, feeling a breeze curl around his bare thighs, sneaking
under the blanket.
Dunne stalled. “But they
“Just get ‘em, JD!”
Tanner was in no mood to banter.
“You know, the way you guys
always hassle me about the clothes I wear…well I reckon you gotta at
least wear ‘em into the saloon.” He grinned wickedly, walking
over to his horse.
“Sure, whatever,” he readily
agreed. Vin followed the gunslinger to his saddlebags and broke
into a relieved smile when JD pulled them out of his bags. This
wouldn’t be so bad – He wasn’t that much taller than Dunne, and
they were about the same size. They’ll do in a pinch. Vin
grabbed at them and left JD standing with his mount.
Dunne dropped to the grass and
waited for the show. It didn’t take long…an agonised howl
echoed loudly, followed by Tanner walking stiffly from behind the trees.
Dunne’s grin grew and he covered it with his hand. “Something
“You can ask that? Knowing
what you gave me?” he hollered. Tanner groaned with each step he
took. “Just how long have you had these threads in yer
saddlebags?” Vin asked suspiciously, tugging at the awkward fit and
feeling extremely self-conscious to boot.
“Actually, I’d forgotten they
were in there, to tell the truth.”
Vin looked down, aghast at what he
saw. The hems cut-off just below his knees and the waist rode low
on his hips. But what was worse, was that even with his slim build
the seat of the pants was far too narrow, and he had to suck in his gut
just to button the fly. “I can barely walk in them, how the hell
am I gonna ride?” He’d be lucky if the seams didn’t split
before he made it back.
“I could always go back to town
and bring you back something else…” JD offered, barely restraining
“Oh no you don’t,” Tanner
warned, waving a finger in his direction. He could just imagine
the scene the others would make of this. And JD was sure to let
them know. Hell, there was no way he was going to make things
worse for himself. He’d suffer the ride back to Four Corners if
only to save himself the embarrassment of the other’s heckling.
He’d still have his jacket, and that at least covered some of his
bulging anatomy. He glanced at the wicked grin the
covered JD’s face. Dunne wouldn’t still be expecting him to
front up to the saloon wearing this…would he? “I ain’t
wearing this into the saloon…”
“Guess your word as a Tanner
ain’t worth all that much,” Dunne goaded.
“Aw, come on, JD…that was made
before I knew what my part of the deal was.”
“Promise is a promise.”
“Aw hell,” Vin groaned.
Definitely hanging around Ezra far too much!
“Reckon we could take it slow
getting back.” If they timed it right it would be getting dark
as they reached home.
“Nope! No can do. I got a
shift at the jail…and ya’ll know how Chris gets when we’re
“Then you best go on ahead a
“That won’t work…I might get
lost…you know I can’t follow directions.”
Tanner glowered at Dunne. He
knew the younger man was throwing Buck’s earlier words back at him,
but how could he refute them, when he’d willingly gone along with
them. “Damn,” he muttered under his breath. “Reckon
the sun’s finally frazzled yer brain…done brought out yer mean
“You’ve still got to keep up
your end of the bargain when you get into town,” JD reminded.
“We could come to some sort of
compromise,” Vin stalled, anxious to get out the humiliating
“Nope,” JD argued. “Yer gotta
do it right away, too.” He hadn’t had so much fun in ages and
it sure beat griping about the heat.
Vin muttered under his breath, and
leaned lower into the saddle. The pants were rubbing uncomfortably
against the leather saddle, and with each stride Peso took; the tight
material became increasingly painful. He wondered if undoing the
top button would make the journey more bearable. Vin fingered the
tight clasp, but changed his mind, when he considered he would have to
refasten it at the end and that could be more difficult while mounted on
Buck and Ezra were going to pay for
coaching the young gunslinger. This was right up their alley, so far as
pranks went. He’d get them, right after he extracted his revenge
against Dunne. “You’re gonna regret this, JD.”
Dunne had the good sense to remain
silent, but couldn’t stifle the snigger that emerged when he looked
back. Here was a grown man, riding a horse, barefoot, wearing only
his jacket and pants that were intended for a youth. He snorted,
and rode off at a gallop.
As they neared town, Tanner became
more agitated by the minute. He couldn’t just waltz into the
saloon, dressed as he was. He slowed Peso’s pace, drawing out
the remainder of the ride. As much as he wanted to get back so he
could change out of JD’s clothing, he was also hesitant to submit
himself to JD’s plan.
Dunne was already off his horse and
waiting at the rail for Vin. He smiled widely at the tracker,
absently rubbing his mount's long face. “You gonna do it?”
Vin swung stiffly from the saddle
and glared in frustration at Dunne. “Gave my word,” he snarled
and stepped up to the swinging doors of the saloon. He peered into
the room, seeking out his comrades – they were all present at their
customary table. In addition, the room was thriving with patrons.
He hung about the door, procrastinating about going in. Damn, Ezra
was the one that could do this, not him. At least he
didn’t have to wear a dress he mused.
His breath caught in his chest as
JD pushed past him, slapping him on the back as he entered the room.
The doors opening to reveal his unusual state of attire as he stood
waiting. A hush fell over the room and all heads turned to face
him. Vin saw a wicked glint in Ezra and Buck’s eyes just as the
doors swung back in his face.
With a heavy sigh, Tanner pushed
open the doors and stepped into the room. A round of cheering and
applause greeted his entry and he blushed from the roots of his hair to
the tips of his toes. God, this was embarrassing.
Gonna kill JD! His smile
faltered as he walked up to the seven’s table.
Gonna slit his throat and feed his
gizzards to wild dogs. Vin ignored the whistles and suggestive
calls and sat down at the table, wanting to bury his head in his arms,
or crawl under the table. Anything to get through this.
He glared murderous blue eyes at
his young friend. JD was not going to get away with this. He
noticed a shot glass slid across the table in front of him and Vin
gratefully upended it in one gulp.
“Um, Vin…You got something to
tell the guys?” Dunne smirked.
Not only was Vin going to kill
Dunne, he was now going to torture him first. Yeah, he smiled
feral at the young sheriff. Dunne had the prudence to look away
and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Vin looked around his
friends’ expectant faces, and nodded.
Yep! Dunne, you’re now on my blacklist – Look out!
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