Mixed Messages

by WendyW

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven are owned by MGM and Trilogy. No infringment is intended. No profit is being made from this activity.

Chris stepped through the door of the saloon registering the sudden lull in conversation and the crisp change of atmosphere. It wasn’t an unfamiliar change, however such a response from these three men was unexpected. The only occupants of the saloon at this hour were Buck, Josiah and Nathan seated at their usual table and taking advantage of Inez’s early morning hospitality. The gathering in the saloon before opening hours provided the men privacy to discuss matters of the town, share breakfast and otherwise chat. Chris chose to ignore the sudden jumble of conversation as all three men began to speak at once. It was too early in the day to deal with his friends’ eccentricities.

Nathan and Josiah refrained from making any comment but Buck Wilmington did not feel any such constraint with his old friend. He certainly wasn’t going to let this unusual change pass without comment. Reaching over he plucked at the crisp, obviously new fabric of Chris Larabee’s shirtsleeve.

“Done a little shopping I see? Who are you out to impress?”

Chris frowned at the odd interest in his attire, pulling the cloth back out of Buck’s grasp. “I needed a replacement while I was over at Eagle Bend.” He couldn’t see why anyone was particularly interested in a new shirt.

“Interestin’ choice there, Larabee.” Buck nodded. “Tryin’ to catch someone’s eye?”

Chris just slapped the hand away as it approached his shirtfront again. Further debate was interrupted as Vin Tanner entered the saloon and approached the table. He slowly eyed Larabee up one side and back down the other before dropping with a thud into his own chair.

“You too?” Chris challenged at the continuing look.

“Ain’t said a word.” Vin bristled at the immediate attack. He was going to say a word or two but clearly Larabee was touchy about the topic if the other’s carefully averted gazes were any indication. He remained silent but was unable to keep from glancing across to this friend. It was simply unnerving.

Conversation tapered off as meals arrived. No one waited on the two missing men as Ezra could never be expected to appear before the midday meal and JD had taken the morning patrol. There was no real trouble expected and no requests from the Judge for additional escorts or deliveries. Instead the seven found themselves approaching the festive season rested and ready for the influx of visitors. Nathan and Josiah excused themselves first, departing to visit patients and parishioners outside town.

Vin slipped away during the reshuffle of chairs around the table. He was only absent a few minutes, returning with a new pot of coffee to find that Buck was the only remaining occupant at the table. Chris had disappeared.

“He left too,” Buck explained at the tracker’s obvious confusion.

“Thought he was stayin’.”

“Said he was going over to the jail,” Buck shrugged, waggling his empty cup at Vin indicating a refill.

Vin didn’t respond, still considering Chris’ odd departure. Maybe he’d just misunderstood. He’d thought he and Chris were staying for a while. A tapping of tin against tin returned Vin’s attention to the coffee pot and Buck’s now insistent cup.

JD pushed backwards through the saloon door, spinning around to the remaining attendants of the breakfast gathering. “That was Chris just leaving here wasn’t it?”

“Did it look like Chris?”

“Well yeah, but why’s he…”

“Don’t ask,” Buck interrupted, hoping JD would really take that advice. This could be a good change for his old friend and it really wasn’t best to prod him too much.

Inez placed the glass of milk in front of JD but he declined any offers of food. “Did something happen in Eagle Bend?” JD asked, as Larabee had returned from there only yesterday.

“Not that we know of. Don’t give it any mind JD. We’ll just see what happens.” Buck turned to the other occupant of the table who’d remained silent. “Vin?”

“Think I’ll go over to the livery.”

“You riding out?” Buck asked, as the tracker seemed suddenly distracted.

“No, too late now. Maybe later in the afternoon.”

Buck shook his head at Vin’s idea of late but knew the man was up at dawn, often riding just on daybreak.

“Want some company?” JD offered. Vin would often slip out to ride alone but when he did take up the offer of company, JD could generally convince his friend to race their horses.

Vin knew what JD was proposing and agreed readily. There was an odd prickly feeling clinging to his spine that might be shifted with the freedom Peso offered. “Sure.”

Chris had mentioned the jail so Buck decided to pursue his earlier questions of the man. As he stepped through into the small front office he found his own presence ignored as Chris looked past him, as if expecting someone else to arrive.

“Where is he?”


“Vin, of course,” Chris explained impatiently. “He was going to come over here after he finished breakfast.”

“No he wasn’t. I just left there and he’s heading to the stable.”

“He knew I wanted him over here.”

“You sure?” Buck was certain Vin knew no such thing. Clearly the two men had missed the signals at breakfast. “I didn’t hear you tell him that.”

“Since when do I tell him anything?”

Buck threw up his hands. “Hey, don’t kill the messenger. I’m just saying he went toward the stables.”

Chris pushed past before Buck could continue to question his odd behaviour.

Chris found the stables to be empty, the proprietor informing him that Tanner and been and gone. Frustrated, he looked up and down the street for sign of the wayward tracker. The streets were beginning to fill as businesses opened, eager to capture the increased trade as the approaching festive season brought additional family and friends into the district. Larabee thought he saw the flash of buckskins disappear around the corner and strode off after them.

Reassured that Peso would now remain content until the afternoon Vin had decided to meet up with Larabee at the jail. Stepping lightly up the two steps from the street, Vin took in the empty office in a quick glance. He turned back to Wilmington who was propped up against the outer wall but Buck didn’t seem to be inclined to offer any information.

The ladies man was taking in the morning’s entertainment as Vin and Chris chased each other around the town.

“Ya seen Chris?” Vin finally asked.

Buck was surprised at that one. He’d figured that the tracker was going to leave a message and skip off again. “He’s just down the street there, Vin,” Buck pointed. His curiosity was further aroused at Vin’s obvious surprise to see Chris standing as plain as day on the boardwalk opposite.

“Guess I just didn’t see him,” he mumbled in excuse. By the time Vin waited for the approaching wagon to pass he had lost sight of the gunslinger again. He walked to the corner and paused.

Vin spun at the flash of color, the sudden movement reaching toward him. He quickly relaxed his stance as he recognised the interloper.

“Little jumpy aren’t you pard?” Chris queried.

“Ya shouldn’t be sneakin’ around like that.”

“Sneaking? I walked up in plain sight.”

“Yeah, well a disguise is just like sneaking,” Vin defended, embarrassed by his lapse.

“What disguise?”

If Chris wanted to just ignore it then Vin wouldn’t press the matter. He would just get used to this. “What d’ya want?”

“I wanted you at the jail earlier but it’s not important,” Chris denied, seeing how uneasy Vin appeared to be. “You heading out to avoid some of this?” Chris asked, nodding his head at the growing crowds.

“Later, with JD.” Vin confirmed.

“Good. Try to relax,” Chris grinned as he moved away.

Vin shook his head as he watched Chris disappear into the throng. Relax. He wasn’t the one causing the problem. It was Chris changing things on him, right at the worst time of year. Deciding he just needed to become accustomed to the sight, Vin proceeded to stalk Chris as he moved along the street. Larabee didn’t appear to be enjoying his morning either as the continuing assortment of greetings, smiles and waves cause him to retreat into the jail once more. This time Vin was close on his heels.

“Hey, you two finally caught up with each other.” Buck ignored the dark looks he received. “Willoughby, over at the bank’s got some burr in his butt about a new cash shipment. Told him you’d be over to get it sorted.”

“You planning of doing anything but take messages,” Chris demanded.

“Nope. Some folk only like to deal with the boss. That’d be you,” Buck grinned.

Chris shook his head. “Only when it’s useful to the rest of you.” Larabee interrupted the grins being exchanged between his two friends. “Come on, Vin.”

Both turned as one and stepped forward, jostling shoulders and both bouncing back after impacting with the door frame.

Buck’s snigger exploded into laughter as Larabee took a fistfull of the tracker’s coat and dragged him backward, clearing his way. Vin shot Buck a filthy look as he straightened his collar and stepped through the doorway, this time with a little more dignity.
Ezra Standish discovered that there was little early afternoon entertainment with any of the noon stage passengers. His only alternative was seated opposite but Ezra knew that Tanner had insufficient funds to gamble at this end of the week. Instead he dealt the cards into patterns, variations of his own personal game of patience.

“Mr Tanner, if you can’t sit still then please leave this table. You are worse than Billy Travis at the moment.”

“Am not.”

“Mr Larabee is not in the vicinity. I will notify you of his approach if you will kindly stop spinning around like that.” Ezra had yet to witness the recent phenomenon Buck Wilmington had so gleefully imparted over lunch but he was certainly witnessing the distracted state of their tracker.

“Sorry Ez, but it’s been a…a…int’restin’ day.”

“Mr Tanner, I can only assume you mean your unusual lack of communication with Mr Larabee. His sudden fashion decision appears to have discombobulated your senses?”

“He dis...what?”

“Confused, bothered, interfered with.”

“It just ain’t him,” Vin grumbled. “When a scowling Larabee stalks down a street, there’s a change in the air like a heavy summer storm rolling in. It ain’t happenin’ now.”

Buck soon joined the pair, ready to poke the rattler a little more. “JD says you were looking for Chris again. Have you checked the other side of the street?”

“Shut up, Buck.”

“I do that then how are you ever going to keep track of Larabee?”

“Don’t know what yer talkin’ about.”

“Noooo,” Buck scoffed. “You can’t tell when he’s comin’ or goin’. You’ve both been turnin’ up solo in odd places all over town. You’re just trying to look like you know what he’s thinkin’.”

“Shut the hell up, Buck” Vin growled.

“Oooh, I’m onto something.” Buck waggled his fingers in Vin’s face. “No more spooky silence. You two have lost it,” Buck laughed.

Vin batted the annoying hand away. “We didn’t lose nothin’. Go pester JD, I got better things ta do.” Vin stood, skidding his chair back on the floor and making a quick exit.

Ezra stopped the idle shuffling of his cards and pocketed the deck. “Don’t you think you should be just a little more sympathetic to their plight?”

“Don’t you get just the teensiest bit annoyed at all the silent gabbing that goes on between ‘em.” Buck countered.

“Well, it is a habit that can be construed as quite rude when surrounded by five speaking compatriots.”

“Right. So, it they’re a little off balance for a day then it’s just nature’s way of evening things out for the rest of us. They’ll be fine. It’s probably just the crowds setting Vin on edge.”

Ezra was not convinced of the reason. Vin seemed to be blaming his unease on Larabee’s change. “We’ve had far larger gatherings and the crowds of the full yuletide season are yet to converge. I believe Mr Tanner is more inclined to blame Mr Larabee for this.”

“Either way, Vin’s as twitchy as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I think that as loyal and true friends, it’s our job to keep poking at them while they’re too distracted to strike back.”

Ezra couldn’t argue with that sentiment.
Trouble didn’t seem to leave the men alone for very long and soon shots were heard in the street as an argument turned robbery spilled out of the new assayers office. The regulators took up positions around the three offending gunmen.

Bystanders had scattered, leaving the street empty for a clear shot. Larabee swore as the tan blur crossed his path forcing him to jerk his gun upward to avoid sending a bullet into a friend. Chris kept an eye on Vin as he completed his diving roll across the open space, safely rising to his knees behind the water trough.

Vin didn’t turn to acknowledge the close exchange, concentrating on the shooting of the three assailants across the street. The disturbance didn’t last long, the violent exchange soon only another ripple in the town gossip as JD and Buck escorted the men toward the jail.

‘What the hell did you think you were doing?” Chris demanded, stepping in almost chest to chest to confront the young man over his reckless action.

“What are you pissed about? I didn’t need to go up on the roof,” Vin couldn’t see a problem. These new smaller buildings offered no protected vantage from their roofs so Vin had remained on the street.

“I’m talking about that hair-brained dive across the street. You crossed my line of fire,” Chris demanded angrily. He couldn’t believe Tanner had been so careless.

“Why didn’t ya yell?”

“Yell what? You knew I was there covering that angle.”

“No I didn’t,” Vin defended.

“You saw me.”

“Did not. It’s your fault ya don’t look like y...” Vin was about to vent his frustrations of the day when he suddenly cut off his tirade. He’d promised himself to try to get used to this. It was just going to take a little more time. “I’m ridin’ for a while,” Vin growled.

Chris was dumbfounded at Vin’s belligerent denial. His mild-mannered tracker appeared to be ready to blame this all on him. “Thought you were going with JD?”

“I’m goin’ now,” Vin snapped, striding away.

Larabee let the younger man depart knowing he’d get nowhere when Vin was steamed up like this. Oddly, Vin kept turning his head back to look at him, appearing to frown and mutter with each backward glance.

Buck returned from the jail to find their leader still at the sight of the gunfight. Larabee was staring down the street, apparently lost in thought.

“Problem?” Buck asked cautiously.

“Vin,” Chris explained.

“Ohhh,” Buck nodded sagely.

“It’s never been like this before. He’s really off-balance today.”

“Well, you know how he gets around crowds.”

“Yeah, I do and it’s not this.”

“Well you did throw everyone for a loop at breakfast. That was probably the last straw.” Buck shook his head, the grin belying any sympathy for his friends’ plight. “That boy just doesn’t tolerate too much change.”

Chris just glared at Buck’s continuing smirks. “What are you talking about? Vin’s trying to blame it on me and I haven’t done anything.” A frown began to appear as Chris considered his day’s events. “Have I?” Some of the looks he’d been receiving today had been making him feel like the town freak.

Buck slapped his friend lightly on the shoulder. “We’ll tell ‘em you’re being festive with Christmas just around the corner. Maybe we should all get into green or red, have a few festive colors just like a regular team?”

Buck’s ramblings tapered off as he realised Larabee still appeared to be confused. Suddenly it struck him. It hadn’t been something he’d associated with Chris for such a long time. His broad grin faded as the realised the mistake everyone had made. “Chris, you do know your wearing red don’t you?”


“Your shirt, it ain’t black. It’s a dark red.”

Chris automatically looked down, plucking at his own shirtfront. He didn’t normally make that mistake now but it would explain everyone’s odd behaviour. The starched fabric reminded him of its recent purchase and the reason for the error became clear. “I needed a new shirt when I was Eagle Bend and I was in a rush. I thought I picked out a black one.” Chris laughed, trying to make light of the unusual mistake. “At least it can’t be as bad as that coat of Ezra’s. I would have noticed something like that wasn’t black.”

Buck had forgotten Chris was blind to some colors. “Guess with your normal wardrobe you don’t have to worry about that.” As soon as the statement was out of his mouth, he knew he’d found another answer and gave Chris a hard look. “Is that part of the reason?”

Chris nodded sadly. “Some. It started out as grief but then I kept sinking until I just didn’t care. The longer it went on the easier black was, one more thing not to have to think about, one less decision to make each day. Sarah was the one who liked to fuss over the colors. I just can’t be bothered now.”

Buck shook his head ruefully at the problem that he’d long forgotten. “If you ever feel like being bothered, just give me a yell. I’ll see you right.”

The fog of old memories cleared, reminding Chris of his current situation. “How come none of you mentioned it?” he demanded. “Vin’s been lookin’ at me twice all day. I swear he was staring every time I looked around. I even thought he might be following me earlier. Seemed like he was gettin’ a might TOO interested.”


“Well hell, Buck. He just wasn’t being Vin.”

“You got him all stirred up, that’s for sure.” Buck agreed with an evil grin. “You might want to mark that shirt and use it again sometime.”

“You look like you’ve been enjoying this.”

“Gotta yank that boy’s chain sometime and he don’t give you too many opportunities like this.” Buck knew what was going on Larabee’s mind. “Oh, you’re not gonna tell him are you?” Buck pleaded, not wanting to lose this advantage.

“Buck, I’ve damn near chased him out of town because of a shirt.”

“So? When did Chris Larabee ever explain himself? Come on,” Buck wheedled. “Just go and change back, keep ‘em guessin’.”

“I’ll change shirts,” Chris agreed. He had never thought to mention his odd problem with some colors because it wasn’t something that bothered him day to day. He wouldn’t try to explain, considering that no one had dared to question his sudden change so no one was likely to question a return to his previous attire. He would do as Buck suggested, mark this shirt and put it away to avoid a repeat of today’s fiasco.

Chris decided to ignore the rest of Buck’s suggestion. While he had no intention of explaining himself to everyone, he knew that the change had disturbed Vin. It wasn’t unusual for the extra crowds during holidays to burden the tracker as he tried to stay aware of the movement and changing faces around him. Vin’s usually quiet, relaxed manner belied the tension and energy it took to maintain the close and constant vigilance. His sudden change in colors would have been distracting Vin even further, continually marking him as out of place. Even with the distraction, Vin had said nothing about the change. Clearly his friend didn’t want to interfere with what must have seemed to be a deliberate choice. Chris would return to his old shirts, but he would explain the problem to Vin.

The journey back to the boarding house was delayed as Chris was accosted every three steps by cheery greetings from townsfolk. He ground his teeth, nodded politely and tried to stride purposefully on. Finally he was within the safety of his room and quickly changed into one of his older shirts. Chris wadded up the new one and tossed it into the corner, not intending to ever retrieve it. Next time he needed to buy something he’d just ask for what he wanted.
The End

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