The Story So Far
Vin Tanner pulled up a chair at the Seven's usual table in the saloon. It was a little early yet to be drinking, but he was mostly looking for the rest of his pards. He'd been up since the first lights were touching the sky and he'd already taken his horse out for a ride. He'd been thinking, mostly about Tascosa. He thought about that a lot these days. It had been quiet in Four Corners lately, so thinking was about the only thing to do. He glanced up from the table when the saloon door opened.
JD Dunne hit the saloon doors hard. The place was empty for the most part, but Vin was already at their regular table. "Hey Vin," he called out, crossing the room toward the tracker. "Have you seen, Buck around?"
Vin shook his head, and then gestured for JD to pull up a chair.
JD smiled in relief. "Good, 'cause if I get any more lectures I think there's gonna be a fight."
They sat quietly for a moment, then JD asked hopefully, "Did you see anything out on your patrol this morning?"
Talkative, Vin thought. "Nope. All clear. It's been quiet," he said. He wondered if quiet meant something big was going to happen, but didn't want to give JD any ideas. "So what's with you and Buck?" Moments after JD entered the saloon, Lee slowly and meticulously entered. He dusted the dust from his overcoat and glanced around the room. Always suspecting an ambush, he paused in front of the doors ready at a moments notice to take cover and defend himself, his hands always not far from his guns. Noticing Vin and JD at the table, he approached them and took a seat as well.
"Well, I have nothing to report. We could use more men to strengthen our numbers."
Looking around the room, he searched for a glass. "What does a person have to do to get a drink around here?"
"Bit early for drinkin' ain't it?" Vin asked. "Well maybe I'll join ya for one. I'll snatch us some glasses." He got and sauntered over to the bar.
"I am in your debt as always."
"One could always ask the proprietor whether service might be forthcoming" Ezra replied quietly from behind him, his usually sardonic tone tempered by what sounded like weariness.
"Salutations, gentlemen. May I inquire as to why you are all here at so an untimely an hour?" he asked as he seated himself at the table.
Vin tried not to smile as he re-seated himself at the table. He put a glass down for everyone but JD.
He didn't know if it amused him or worried him more that the kid didn't drink. "Most folks have been up a while now Ezra. The sun came up hours ago."
Lee glanced around; his usual stone face softened a bit. "There was a time when I would have never let anyone get behind me. I must be getting older."
Ezra chose to disregard the reference to the sun--he was more used to sundown being the start of his occupation, and wasn't a morning person anyway. However, he enjoyed the company of the others, and wasn't willing to complain this early.
"Mister Dunne--I believe I saw Mr. Wilmington inquiring about your whereabouts...rather vociferously, might I add. "Looking over at Lee, he nodded at the other mans comment. "Indeed, I must admit that persons behind one can be--discomforting. No offense intended." Which was as close to an apology as Ezra ever got.
Lee nodded briefly. "No apologies needed. It is indeed discomforting when you lose the ability to sense your surroundings. That is a liability in my line of work."
Lee raises his glass to the others. "Well, here is to us and our mission..." Even though he didn't have a glass to raise with the others in response to Lee's words, JD joined in the spirit of the toast whole-heartedly.
The brief moment of warm companionship was interrupted by Ezra gesturing toward the door. "And here come another of our number. Mr. Wilmington, looking like the proverbial thundercloud." He shot a wry glance across to JD's suddenly empty chair.
The sharp rap of wood on wood announced the youngest member's exit through the backdoor.
Vin grinned. "Wonder what's eatin' Buck?" Whatever it was undoubtedly had something to do with JD.
The wooden saloon doors slammed open violently. None of the men gathered around the table reacted. Though each of them looked like they found something highly entertaining.
"Where is he?" Buck's tone left no question as to the object of his search. He threw up his hands in disgust at the blank looks he received from the others. "Don't you play innocent, any of you! You know exactly who I'm lookin' for!"
Hoping to give JD a longer head start *judging from Mr. Wilmington’s expression, he will need* Ezra nonchalantly said "Whomever you are so assiduously seeking will find escape ineluctable. Although our assistance would of course be of more avail if you would deign to sit and explicate the situation." Ezra gestured towards the chair so recently vacated by JD. He hoped that it would take Buck a minute or two to puzzle out what he had said. Which was why he had learned all those words in the first place...if you can't fight your way out, perhaps you could puzzle the other person long enough to find another route of escape. Although why he cared enough to exert himself...
Lee smiled at Ezra's tactics. Now that was master of playing all sides of the situation. Lee learned a long time ago to evaluate the situation and act accordingly. That was the main reason he has survived so long. He has seen too many gunslingers die at a very young age. They lived by then gun and died by the gun. But again they died young. They never realized they had a more powerful weapon at their disposal. Their minds.
Lee also reminded himself that he also lived by his guns, by his brains as well. Lee never allowed an enemy to outthink or out gun him. He was one of the richest gunslingers around these parts. The smile faded just as quickly as it appeared. Perhaps he was too smart. Sure, Lee was wealthy, beyond measure, but he could not spend the money. He had mad too many enemies. Musing to himself, Lee thought that perhaps he was not that smart after all.
Lee then waited for the next exchange and what would unfold. Buck glared at Ezra. Usually the kid was around to ask for an explanation so he didn't have to. A quick glance at the other men gathered told him that he wasn't going to get any help from them either.
Ezra started to answer him, but Buck cut him off. "No. Never mind. Just tell me which way the kid went."
"What's he do? Care to sit a minute, have a drink and fill us in?" Vin asked.
Ezra was intrigued. He couldn't resist the chance to meddle. It made him feel rather a closer part of the group than usual. And since his curiosity was piqued, he was hoping that Buck would explain why he was so discommoded.
Nathan brushed dust from his pants, strolling up the alley behind the saloon. As he rounded the corner, he nearly collided with JD. The kid looked panicked as he tried to push past Nathan.
"Whoa, there, son. What's the rush? You look like Buck's on a rampage or somethin'"
JD nodded wordlessly, eyes wide. Nathan grinned. "What did you do now?"
"Nothin', really. Buck just..." The kid was cut short by a roar from the backdoor of the saloon.
"JD!" Buck bellowed. The kid bolted. Nathan turned to face Buck as he strode from the building. The gunslinger glared at the healer.
"Is JD here?" Buck asked.
"Nope. Can't say as he is."
Ezra rose to follow Buck from the saloon. As dull as this town was, who could resist some excitement...besides, he was still curious about what had caused Mr. Wilmington’s rather bizarre attitude. He met Nathan’s eyes behind Buck’s back; arching one eyebrow at the other mans picture perfect innocence. He almost smiled, but feared that Nathan would misinterpret the expression. Instead, he said
"Good afternoon, Mr. Jackson." before falling awkwardly silent. Nathan acknowledged Ezra with a nod. "Ezra. Nice day, ain't it. Buck here's lookin' for JD. You know where he's at?"
"Indeed it is a fine day, Mr. Jackson. As a matter of fact, I have no idea of Mr. Dunne's current whereabouts. I was not even aware that Mr. Wilmington was seeking our young friend. Although he certainly was looking for SOMEONE--he burst into the saloon in rather a foul mood," Ezra favored Buck with a rather disdainful look *in for a penny...* "he was his usual rather less than cogent self."
Now Ezra was extremely curious. And since no explanations seemed to be forthcoming from Buck, who was glaring at him, he thought that he would go try and get an explanation from the prey in this particular hunt. "If you gentlemen will excuse me..." He withdrew and headed towards the livery, which seemed the likeliest place to find someone who was looking to disappear.
As he left town, JD risked a glance backward. So far, no pursuit. Hopefully the others could keep Buck busy until he got away. He relaxed a little when the foothills began obscuring the little town from view and there was still no sign of Buck.
JD wasn't due on patrol until later that evening and Buck was apparently going to take some time to calm down, so he had some time on his hands. JD sighed. How was he supposed to know that Otto Mobiel really was on his way home? If Buck had just gone out the front door like a normal person, he wouldn't have run into the big farmer coming in through the back one.
A stand of trees off to his right caught his attention. He smiled, a plan for whiling away a couple hours rapidly forming. He quickly checked his pack. He silently thanked Vin, for driving home the importance of carrying at least basic survival equipment. Some line, hooks, and a fishing hole. The afternoon wasn't a total loss after all.
JD smiled to himself. The sun was warm and he had an unexpected chance to do something that life with the Seven rarely let him do. He could be a kid. Not that he didn't like riding with the others, but it seemed like everything was so serious with them.
He'd just passed the first row of trees when his daydreaming came to a complete and abrupt stop. The tell tale click of a hammer rang loudly in his ears.
Ezra arrived at the livery in time to see JD leave, headed in the general direction of the small creek. He debated following the younger man, and decided to speak to Vin about it instead. Not only was a day spent riding with possible work involved not his idea of an enjoyable pursuit, he did not have a very close relationship with JD. He turned, and saw the tracker right away. Stepping closer to him, he told Vin what he had seen, ending with "since you are more the...um, type of person to enjoy a day spent in that kind of pursuit, perhaps you had best be the one to follow our young friend. And, of course, he might be more likely to confide in someone rather closer to him." Ezra waited for a reply, hoping that the other man would choose to follow JD. He had an odd feeling about today.
As Nathan approached the livery, he noticed Vin and Ezra in front of the building. Nathan nodded a greeting.
"Where y’all headed?' he asked.
Before Vin could reply, Ezra spoke up. "Why, Mr. Tanner has taken it upon himself to go after the young Mr. Dunne, to keep the lad out of trouble." His smile was less than sincere. Vin scowled at him.
"And Ezra was just insisting on keeping me company." Now it was Vin smiling and Ezra scowling.
"I'm headed out to the Seminole village to check on things there, "Nathan said. "Mind if I ride with you a ways?"
"Not at all," Vin replied. "Let's mount up."
Josiah tugged at his bonds yet again, still to no avail. His head still ached, but not as bad as before. Things were starting to slowly comeback to his muddled brain.
Late last night JD had burst into the small church, startling him awake. The kid was wide-eyed, and looked spooked.
"JD. Evening. What's got your soul stirred up so late at night?" JD had starred at him blankly.
"This have anything to do with Chris?" Josiah had prompted.
The kid jumped and yelped like he been stung, than ran from the building.
Josiah followed, making it as far as the street before a blow to the head brought him to his knees.
He'd tried to stand, but another blow brought darkness.
Josiah struggled to sit up. He rubbed his temples with bound hands.
What kind of trouble was JD in now? And what did it have to do with Chris?
Ezra saddled his horse and rode with the other two grudgingly. He occasionally shot glares in the general direction of the tracker, but was otherwise impassive. He suspected that Vin got too much pleasure out of his little trick if he knew that Ezra was miserable. However, it was a fine day, and he could almost enjoy the ride.
There were at least two of them. And they had the drop on him. Even JD realized the gravity of the situation. His mind was spinning frantically for a plan. The guy on his right was huge, maybe even taller than Josiah. No escape there, and judging by the expert way the other one held his gun, the other direction was out of the question as well.
A third man joined them. JD noticed detachedly that he seemed out of place with the others. *More like someone Ezra'd play poker with.* The thought of the gambler also brought the beginnings of a plan. He might not have the gambler's way with words and people, but he did have one asset that could help out in a con.
He looked innocent. Most of the time it was a hassle, but maybe, just maybe this time he could use it to his advantage.
"Well, well, well. Gentlemen, what do we have here? Please extend our 'guest' a little courtesy."
The first man stepped forward and wrapped a huge fist around JD's arm. He pulled JD clear of the saddle with a lack of effort that was almost insulting.
"You know, they'll be missing me back in town 'for long. I've gotta get back or someone'll come looking for me." JD tried to make his voice sound young, like he wasn't a threat.
"Really? On such a fine day, you expect me to believe that you were just going to ride out to the fishing hole and then just turn back?" The man's voice dripped with amusement.
"I was coming out here to bring my brother Jessie home. You haven't seen him have you? He's about so tall, brown hair. Ma'll be sore if he don't get his chores done." JD hoped the lie came out smoothly.
"Come now, Mr. Dunne, I had no idea that you had a brother." JD felt his heart drop.
A high-pitched screech assaulted Josiah's ears after the long silence. He looked toward the door, squinting at the glare of the sunlight. A figure was silhouetted in the doorway.
"Sanchez. You're awake? Sorry about the accommodations." The voice was soft, menacing. Josiah didn't answer. Instead, he regarded the figure. The man was slight, scrawny. If he were a fish, I'd toss him back, the preacher thought with a grin. It was obvious the man wasn't working alone. He could never have handled Josiah alone.
"You may as well get comfortable. No telling how long you're going to be here."
"What do you want?"
"I'm not going to make it that easy for you, Sanchez. You'll just have to wait."
The door closed as the man left. Josiah sighed. He'd been wanting sometime to reflect and think, but this wasn't exactly what he'd planned. Do the others know I'm gone, yet? Did this even involve the rest of the seven? Were they in danger, too.
He sighed. Just how long are they going to leave me here?
Lee rose from the table.
He did not like this. They were being split up. Decided to continue his patrol, Lee quickly finished his drink headed towards th