But I Thought...
Main Street was hazy with smoke from the gunfight. The acrid smell of gunpowder attacked the senses. In the midst of wandering rider less horses and either dead or moaning human bodies stood the leader of the peacekeepers, Chris Larabee. His dark gaze looked upon the scene with a scowl. A gang of at least a dozen men had rode into town during the heat of the day with one goal in mind-robbing the bank. The outlaws came riding through town hell bent for leather with their guns blazing sending the residents of Four Corners scurrying to safety into buildings or behind whatever they could find to get away from stray bullets. Thinking the leader of the gang was just hoping for a hit and run type thing Chris figured the man either was plain stupid or else didn't do his homework well. There weren't many places or people in this territory that didn't know Four Corners was guarded by seven men. Seven men who knew how to use guns, weren't afraid of any odds stacked against them and were prepared to die on a daily basis.
As the man in black calmly refilled his gun's empty chambers he looked and checked the whereabouts of his six companions. Five of them came from various places lining Main Street, each man knowing where the others to be, each man in a position to cover the others and yet in doing so making sure that there was no error in cross firing. The seven men hadn't been together long but they worked like a well oiled machine. His gun refilled, he spun the chamber and holstered it as his eyes scanned the rooftop to his left looking for the sharpshooter who always seemed to tip the scales in their favor in any fight. Vin Tanner usually took the high ground to secure the lawmen from any outlaw who might try and pick them off from above. The Texan had a good eye, a steady hand and was a deadly shot. One of the best he'd ever seen.
Not seeing the buckskinned clad man either giving the "okay" signal from atop the hardware store, nor appearing from around the corners of the building, Larabee figured to go around back and head up to the roof to make sure his friend was alright. Just as he entered the alleyway there was a loud noise of splintering wood and busting glass. Two men came tumbling out of the just busted frame and glass window of the hardware store. One of the men was Vin, the other was a bear of a man, bigger than Josiah and he had a crushing hold on the sharpshooter. Pain was etched on the Texan's face as the big man had him in a chokehold and held a gun to his temple. Not only was the monster of a man cutting off his air supply but the gun was going to leave a permanent mark in his head by the way it was pushed hard into his scalp.
The outlaw swung Vin around like a limp doll as he swiveled left to right seeing that all his friends were either dead or being rounded up headed to the jail.
"Everbody just hold it right where you are!" the big man bellowed. "Hold it right there or I put a bullet in his head!"
Chris was hidden behind the corner of the hardware store, not being seen by anyone yet, waiting to see what this big man intended to do. His colt was in his hand ready to put the man down but he didn't have a clear shot, not with Vin being held tight against the outlaw's chest. A shot to the man and the bullet could go through him and into Vin and there was no way he was going to chance that.
He watched as Buck, Ezra, Josiah, Nathan and JD all stopped what they were doing, but still held the outlaws at gunpoint. No one wanted these bank robbers to go free, but none were going to take a chance with Vin's life either.
"Throw yer guns down now!" the man holding Vin yelled out. "Now! or he's a dead man."
Buck walked forward holding his gun up in an non-threatening way, his eyes on Vin, effectively blocking the big man's view of his outlaw friends behind him.
"Just take it easy mister," he said in a soft voice. "We don't want to do anything rash here now." "We'll put our guns down and then you can let Vin there go. How does that sound?"
"Do it!! Then git outta my way. Me and this Injun lover are gonna take a ride. And all the rest of them," his jaw jutted to the remaining outlaws, "are comin' with me."
"Okay fine, fine, just be careful with that gun there, don't want any accidents here." Buck said as he slowly lowered his gun and just as slowly tossed it away. "We hear ya."
What happened next took only an instant. As Buck tossed his gun into the dirt, the outlaw made the mistake of watching it fall taking his eyes off Buck and the rogue used that second to give Vin a slight nod and shift of his eyes. The sharpshooter knew instinctively that Chris was behind him waiting for this moment. He stomped hard on his captor's foot with the heel of his boot while bringing his head up and back into the man's chin. The giant let go and the Texan half dove, half fell to his right watching as Buck dropped to the ground also. Vin hadn't even fully hit the ground when he heard Larabee's colt fire once and the big man toppled over dead with a shot in the back blasting through his heart.
"Damn," muttered the sharpshooter as his head fell back to the ground.
Nathan came running over kneeling next to Vin worried because the man hadn't gotten to his feet yet.
"Where you hurt Vin?"
"Bastard fell on me, when we came through the roof, think I may have some busted ribs," he winced as Nathan helped him to his feet.
"Good shot stud!" exclaimed Buck to Chris as he got to his feet, picked up his gun and headed over to the three men.
"Think I owe ya a drink cowboy," Vin said as he nodded to Chris.
"I'll be waitin'," said the man in black as he holstered his gun for the second time and squinted out at the street. "Let's get this mess cleaned up Buck."
"Show's over brothers," Josiah's voice boomed as he pushed one of the remaining four outlaws to the vicinity of the jail.
"Pity," said Ezra. "Some people just never learn. Come on sheriff, lets get these miscreants to their new humble abode. Mr. Dunne? JD, lad, are you injured?"
"No...no, I'm fine Ezra, it's just that I thought..."
"You thought what?"
"Nothin', it's just that I thought...." JD stood rooted to the spot, shaking his head. "Just somethin' Chris said, that's all."
"Well then, I suggest you take it up with our leader. Seems he's headed this way," and with that said Ezra motioned for the other three outlaws to head to the jail.
"You alright JD?" Chris asked as he came up to him noticing the puzzled look on his face.
"Yeah, I'm fine Chris, it's just that I thought...well, I thought..."
"What?" the gunslinger asked as he looked back over his shoulder to where the young man was looking.
JD tore his eyes away from the man that Larabee had just shot and killed and looked at him, spreading his hands out. "I thought...," he shrugged, "I thought I'd send a wire to Judge Travis and tell him what happened," he finally spit out although it wasn't what he wanted to say or ask.
Chris nodded to him and headed to the jail where Buck, Josiah and Ezra were herding the outlaws. They'd throw them in jail, find out who they were and then he'd head to the saloon. He wanted to sit with Vin, have his drink and find out how such a big man got the drop on the tracker. He shook his head and a small grin graced his lips. He couldn't wait to hear this explanation. His new-found friend had quite the sense of humor and the two men found they enjoyed each other's company which was rare in these times. Not many men could be trusted but Vin, his old friend Buck and now four other men were becoming well known and each situation seemed to pull them closer together. It wasn't a bad feeling, but when something happened like it just did with Vin, it made him wonder if this was really what he wanted to do, where he wanted to be. Just something to ponder on. And drinking and pondering were two things he did extremely well.
+ + + + + + +
Half an hour later found all seven peacekeepers in the saloon. Vin and Chris sharing a table and a bottle near the back of the saloon, the other five playing cards at a nearby table and discussing the gunfight, the outlaw's stupidity, Vin's sore ribs, and who was going to help fix Mr. Franklin's hardware store's roof and glass window frame.
"Mr. Dunne, are you going to play those cards or continue in your present state of unconsciousness?"
"Yeah JD, what's troubling ya boy? You get hit on the head or somethin'? Nathan? Maybe you ought to take a look at him."
"Ain't nothin' wrong with me Buck, I just got somethin' on my mind is all."
"Well, there will be something wrong with you son if you don't quit lookin' over at Chris like that. I'll take two cards."
"One for me. Just spit it out kid, hell, maybe we can help, we are, after all, men of experience and learning."
"More like yearning in your case, Mr. Wilmington. One more round boys? By all means, Mr. Dunne, speak what's on your mind."
"Well," said JD glancing once again at the black clad gunfighter who sat in his line of vision. "The first time I met Chris and Vin was when Nathan was fixin' to get strung up and I wanted to help in the fight and so I was going to take a shot at a man when Chris shot at my feet and told me that you don't never shoot anyone in the back."
"That's true kid, it just isn't the way an honest man takes out another," Buck said as he smoothed his moustache and thought on his cards.
"But Chris just shot a man in the back. Why is that any different? I mean, why does he tell me not to do it and then he goes and does it anyway? Just doesn't make any sense to me. I just thought he meant what he said. Didn't think he'd be a man to go back on what he said."
"Different set of circumstances, different set of outcomes son, it's as easy as that," stated Josiah. "Hmmm...Ezra are you sure your not dealing from the bottom?"
"A gentleman never cheats, or at least he never gets caught," the gambler retorted with a dimpled grin. "Now, JD, what was this man doing as you were going to shoot him?"
Finally. Maybe he would get some answers now, maybe someone could tell him why Larabee thought he had the right to shoot someone in the back while telling others not to do it.
"He was one of the men that was going to hang Nathan. And he had been in on the gunfight, shooting at Chris and Vin," JD said with authority remembering the events of that day. "But I guess the guy was running away when I was going to shoot him."
"Well, there you have it my young friend. The man was of no consequence. He was merely distancing himself from the fray and Mr. Larabee obviously deemed him as non threatening."
"JD, the man was running away. You don't shoot men who are walking, running or riding away from you, especially when they are not in the fight anymore," Buck explained to him.
"Mr. Tanner's life was in mortal danger here in this instance and Mr. Larabee decided not to mess with 'what if's'."
"But it was in the back!! Vin was on the ground, couldn't have Chris waited until the man turned around and then shot him?"
The game came to a halt, each man holding his cards and glancing over at the two friends sharing smiles and laughs and drinks. As one they all turned back to their card playing and resumed their teaching lesson to the youngest. Some things just had to be explained. One by one they began firing off questions to the young sheriff hoping in their line of questioning he would come to understand why Chris did what he did.
"Okay, JD. What hand was the outlaw's gun in?"
"Which side did Vin fall to?"
"Now, if that miscreant turned to his right..."
"Which he would have because that's his gun hand, and he would have turned that way to shoot at Chris..."
"...then who's to say that the man wouldn't have shot his gun off into Mr. Tanner's body as he was turning to Mr. Larabee?"
"Circumstances kid, you just gotta know and Chris wasn't gonna take any chances with Vin's life. And that's all there is to it."
JD nodded his head as it finally dawned on him. Now he understood. He was so dumb. How could he question a seasoned gunfighter? What he didn't know now was if he was ever in a situation like that, would he do the right thing? The quizzed look must have appeared on his face.
"Trust, son. Trust."
"Trust your instincts. Listen to that little voice in your head and trust it. You'll live longer that way. Ain't sayin' ya won't make any mistakes. We all have, but now you know what we all know. What Chris knew. And he trusts his instincts. He has to."
"Damn, but you cheat Ezra."
"Nathan, what do you have?"
"Nothin' that'll beat that hand of yours. I don't know how you do it."
"Mr. Dunne? JD?
"Huh? Oh, yeah, well I have four twos.
"Well, I'll be damned. JD beat Ezra."
"Can't be! I can't be beat by...by a wet behind the ears boy! Let me see this deck. There must be something amiss here."
"Hey, I won. I beat Ezra. What do ya know, Buck? I won." JD sat back with a big grin and enjoyed the admiring looks of his friends, well, all but the one pawing through the deck.
Buck sat back in his chair, glanced again at his old friend and grinned as he saw the smile and heard the laugh, two things that had been scarce in the gunslinger's life the past three years. What a gift Tanner was. To them all not just Chris. He turned back to the table, held his glass of beer up, and said, "No, JD. I think today we all won."
"Amen, brother, Amen," Josiah agreed as five sets of glasses clinked together.
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