Warning: M/M sex implied, some violence and lots of cussing.
Notes: The good thing about writing is that you get IDEAS. The bad thing about writing is that sometimes they wont GO AWAY and therefore you are stuck with the damned things until you write them out. Dont ask me, I have no idea where the goddamned elephant came from. It just came I tried to give it to Leslie and she just batted it back, and pretty soon we had a volleyball game going strong, so this is a collaboration.
Feedback: Pretty please.
Giovanni Luciano Baptista Angelo Verdi was drunk. Extremely drunk. So drunk, in fact, that he was at the weepy stage, remembering his mamas sunny kitchen in Tuscany, wishing he had a dish of her delicious pasta and downright homesick for Italia. It was impossible to find decent pasta or vino in this infernal country.
He told Bella Luna so, in lengthy detail as he hiccoughed his way through his crying jag and chugged down the last of the jug of rotgut. Mama mia, it tasted like paint thinner. Maybe it WAS paint thinner. Blearily, he held the jug up at eye level to see if he could read the label. Nope. No label, just a row of little xs.
He sniffled loudly, feeling very sorry for himself and sank blearily back into the pile of straw behind him. Soon a loud, atonal series of snores rose from the heap. Bella Luna gently tugged a horse blanket over him, stood indecisively for a moment, then shuffled ponderously out of the barn.
Buck Wilmington was leaning against a post outside the saloon, trying valiantly to keep his eyes on Miss Alices pretty blue eyes instead of her more obvious assets as he wooed her, when young Sheriff Dunne rudely interrupted him.
The young man was so excited that he was bouncing in place like a jackrabbit with springs attached to its feet. He took off his hat politely for Miss Alice, still bouncing and yammering.
Buck! Quick! Ya got ta come see this!
Wilmington straightened alertly and puffed out his chest, hand going automatically to his gun.
What is it kid? Bank robbery? Horse thieves?
No, Buck! The circus is in town!
The kid beamed and pointed towards the end of town. Wilmington scowled and squinted. Sure enough, a small string of gaudily painted caravans was streaming into Four Corners, led by a skinny feller on stilts wearing a top hat and leading a pair of mangy camels. He yanked the kids hat out of his hand and swatted him vigorously on the head and shoulders with it.
Dammit kid, how many times I got to tell you NOT to interrupt me when Im in the middle of
He paused in mid-tirade, jaw dropping, gaze locked over JDs shoulder. The small parade was starting to stream past them now. A pretty, leggy acrobat dressed in spangled tights and twirling a tiny parasol while balanced precariously on the rump of a massive white horse winked coyly at him. Buck dazedly jammed the kids hat back on his head and tipped his own.
Miss Alice flounced off into the saloon. Buck had just been Cut Off.
Unaware, he was now trotting alongside the parade, determined to keep the doe-eyed damsel in sight. Acrobats! Damn! The positions err; possibilities were endless!
Behind him, JD finally managed to pry his hat up from around his eyes. He grinned in boyish delight at the sight of the gilded cages containing a Man Eating Lion From the Heart of Darkest Africa! And a Ferocious Siberian Tiger! The elderly, nearly toothless lion yawned sleepily as he contemplated his next nap. The bored tiger reclined regally in her cage and idly contemplated how one of the screeching urchins scampering by outside would taste.
The excitement of the unexpected arrival of Botrellis Extraordinary Circus into the small, dusty town was such that no one noticed the half dozen seedy vaqueros who were lazily casing the bank, or the little drunken man, stumbling behind the wagons hiccoughing, sobbing and occasionally lamenting loudly and at length in Italian.
An amused Chris Larabee watched as Buck nearly plowed into the south end of a northbound mule in his efforts to charm the little acrobat. Of course, the tall ladies man was oblivious to the jealous glare from the mustachioed strong man driving the wagon following her. He folded his arms and watched the parade, leaning casually against the post outside of the barbershop.
Ezra Standish emerged from his daily hot shave, reeking of vetiver, to peer with interest at the glittering, boisterous throng parading by. New blood in town! Some of them were bound to be gambling men. He flashed a gold-toothed grin at the blond gunslinger.
New entertainment for this dusty burg! Ah was about to despair, especially since that last fiasco with those Spanish dancers.
He gave a theatrical shudder. The troupe of dancers had also counted larceny among their many talents. They had successfully fleeced half the men in town, before anyone was the wiser. Plus they had made more money in a day than Ezra had in a month, and that offended his delicate sensibilities. His town, his marks.
Larabee gave him a small half smile, keen eyes carefully taking note of the performers. It was a pity that Vin wasnt here to see them. He could just picture those wide, blue eyes taking in all this glitter and noise. The young tracker was out of town on a job. A local dirt farmer, Amos Fardt had opened his henhouse door yesterday morning and found himself face to face with an enormous grizzly bear instead of a couple of nice, brown eggs.
After he had changed his drawers, he had hopped on his mule and hightailed it into town hollering for Vin. Since Amoss farm was only a mile or so away from Miss Netties small ranch, Vin had lost no time in setting off in pursuit. Although, he had privately confided to Chris, the bear probably had more to worry about if it met Miss Nettie first.
Josiah and Nathan ambled out of the nearby restaurant to join them, and the regulators all moved together down the sidewalk to see where the small circus was setting up. They would introduce themselves, speak with the ringmaster and hope that everything went smoothly. Four Corners was enough of a circus on a regular day without help from professionals.
Bella Luna browsed happily among the willows along the creek bank. She had tired of her diet of hay and had been craving tasty greens for a week now. Finally she had taken advantage of Giovannis latest three-day drunk to seek the fresh food out. After all, as a seventeen-year old Indian elephant, she was still a growing girl.
She rumbled contentedly to herself when she discovered the heavy thicket of blackberries, her prehensile trunk delicately plucking the ripe, juicy fruit from the thorny brambles and happily stuffing her mouth. Bella Luna had quite a sweet tooth, or tusk. Once she had stuffed herself on fresh vegetation, she would again seek out her beloved Giovanni.
At the far end of the thorny thicket, Slew Foot, the big grizzly, was slowly stalking a young cow and her new calf. The big bear was old, and hunting was becoming more difficult in the nearby mountains, so he had migrated south in search of easier prey. So far he had been fairly successful with this strategy, raiding nearby farms and ranches. He was also becoming bolder and more dangerous. Amos had been fortunate to escape with his soiled drawers intact. The bear shouldered his way into the heavily thicketed gully, nostrils flaring. He could hear his prey ahead.
Less than a half hour behind him, Vin Tanner followed, rifle held at ready. Peso had objected vigorously to the scent of the grizzly, but Vin had persisted and the big black gelding resentfully obeyed his master as they trailed the bear. The young man had been pleased when the bear had veered away from Miss Netties ranch. Grizzly bears were both dangerous and unpredictable.
Tanner topped the small hill and swore softly when he saw the huge thicket down below, running along the creek bed. The bears tracks led directly into the middle of the mass of willows choked with brambles and underbrush. There was no visible path. Even as heavily armed as he was, he would be a fool to venture into the thorny tangle on foot.
He reined in the nervous Peso and pondered his options. If he went in on foot, he could quickly become the hunted. The bear could turn on him and ambush him in a heartbeat. If he let the bear escape, it might decide to have Amos for breakfast next time, instead of his chickens. Maybe he would ride along the rim of the gully and see if he could get a bead on the griz from above
Suddenly, there was a thunderous, deep bass roar followed by the loudest, strangest sound Vin had ever heard in his young life. It was a cross between an earth shaking bellow and what he had always imagined a foghorn sounded like, topped off with a shrill, trumpet like sound. The hair on the nape of his neck stood straight up and Peso jibbed and snorted in astonishment.
Before he could debate his options, a large bundle of brown fur shot out of the thicket in front of him bellowing like a lost cub for its mama, nearly knocking the unnerved Peso off his hooves in its haste to escape. The horse whinnied and reared in fright, ears flat against his skull. Before Vin could calm him, a big gray SOMETHING charged out of the thicket behind the bear, trumpeting loudly.
That was all it took.
Peso launched himself into the air like a fourth of July rocket, sunfishing and bucking madly, and Vin, taken totally by surprise by the appearance of the big, gray monster, went flying out of the saddle to land with a bone-jarring thud on the rocky hill and roll helplessly down into the gully to land at the critters huge feet. The last thing he saw clearly before his head connected with a rock and he only saw stars, was Peso bolting like hell for town.
Bella Luna gave one last triumphant trumpet as she routed the big, smelly dog that had so rudely interrupted her dinner. That would teach him! A good, solid whack with her trunk had sent old Slew Foot rolling like a rubber ball. The appearance of the horse and rider had been a nice surprise.
Was it Giovanni come to lead her back to camp? Was he sleeping AGAIN? She peered nearsightedly down at the limp bundle of buckskin at her feet, than gently began to sniff and examine the unconscious young man with the sensitive tip of her trunk. No, this wasnt Giovanni, but he smelled delicious!
She explored the mans face gently, then snuffled at his soft hair. He smelled of sun warmed hay, sweet grass, salt and was that dried apples? Bella Luna loved apples. Gingerly, she began to search Vins clothing and rifle his pockets for the hidden treats. She carefully removed his mares leg from its holster and discarded it, rumbling in disapproval at the acrid odor of gunpowder. Noisy, nasty things.
Beneath her gentle explorations, Tanner moaned softly as he began to regain consciousness.
High Horse led his small ragtag band of followers along the ridge. After much orating (including bribes and threats), the young Pawnee had persuaded several of his friends to venture forth on a raid against the white men. He was determined to bring home a large string of ponies to impress Doe Eyes and her irascible father.
Buffalo Rump, Owl Ears, Laughs Like a Coyote, and Squirrel followed dutifully behind in single file. Squirrels shy younger brother, Never Talks, brought up the rear on his ancient, obese horse, Many Farts. All the young men were nervous. They had never ventured so far from their tribe on a raid before. Plus, they had heard rumors of a black clad, evil-tempered devil white man living in the area who was fond of shooting a lot and speaking little.
We will stop at the creek to water the horses, High Horse stated pompously and unnecessarily with an imperious wave of his hand.
He was practicing to become A Great Chief. He ignored the muted snickers behind him, as Never Talks horse noisily punctuated the statement by venting a massive fart. A great leader could overlook such nonsense. Head high, shoulders squared, he led the way down the ridge toward the glint of water through the trees.
Back in town, the regulators had convened in the saloon, as was their habit, for lunch. Larabee was slumped in his corner, hat pulled down low over his eyes, masking his amused smirk with a shot of redeye. The saloon was fairly empty, with most of the town folks at the edge of town, gawking as the circus set up.
Buck was seated at a table near the bar, with Nate fussing over him. Wilmington yelped as the healer tilted his head back and slapped a chunk of raw steak over his rapidly swelling, blackened eye. Hell, how was he supposed to know that Sophia the Equestrian Artist was also newly married to Fabio the Strong Man? All he had done was help the lady dismount from her horse. It wasnt his fault that he had gotten his cuff button caught on her spangled tights.
Also seated at the table was the little man who had trailed the circus into town. JD and Josiah were trying to make sense of his loud laments. Apparently he didnt know a word of English, although his gestures were quite descriptive, as well as dramatic. The bawling wasnt helping either.
A puzzled Josiah scratched his graying head. He wished now that he had studied a few more words of Italian in his youth. Apparently this poor soul had suffered a great loss recently. Make that a Great Big Loss, as Giovanni made a series of expansive, all encompassing hand gestures, and then burst into a fresh batch of tears.
A sympathetic JD patted the little man gently on the back. Poor fellow. Probably had recently lost his wife. The young sheriff felt himself give a teary sniff of his own. Dang. It made him think of his dear, departed mama. He knuckled his eyes.
Giovanni, in the mean time, was desperately trying to make himself understood.
Il mio elefante e manca! Chiama e Bella Luna! Ella grande e bella con le zanne magnifiche!
He gestured to indicate just how large Bella Lunas tusks were. Hopefully, he gazed around at the tall men surrounding him. Did no one in this infernal country speak Italian?
Chiunque qui parle italiano? Blank looks all around. Apparently not.
Buck eyed Giovannis mournful face sympathetically. Poor little feller. That must have been some woman! Well, maybe he could help the little man in that department. Turning towards the bar and the small gaggle of saloon girls lunching there, he beamed animal magnetism and crooned:
Swanhild darlin, could you come over here a minute?
Swanhilde Eldonsdotter Gunnerson rose to her impressive height of six feet and ambled majestically over, her massive, gently swaying bosom as impressive as the figurehead of a ship. Giovannis eyes widened over his moustaches at the sight of this blonde goddess. She was magnificent!
Mama Mia, ha i meloni di un angelo!
Wilmington grinned. He had understood that! He gave the little man a friendly clap on the shoulder that nearly knocked him out of his chair. Turning back to the bar, he bellowed a jovial order for drinks around the house.
Vin groaned softly as he slowly regained consciousness, one hand groping for the knot on the back of his head. Groggily, he scrunched his face against the brilliant summer sun. Dang. How much had he had to drink last night? Speaking of groping, something warm and ticklish was gently easing its way down inside his britches
Dammit, Larabee! Dont you ever get tired?
Goddamned, ornery gunslinger! Always jumping a mans bones when he was least expecting it or trying to get some much needed sleep. It was a wonder Vin could sit a horse lately; the man was insa what was that fancy word Ez used? Well, he never got tired, anyway.
Bella Luna had finally located the pocket holding the elusive slices of apple, now for a judicious application of suction
She had discovered long ago that it was best to pick Giovannis pockets when he was passed out. It had saved her many a scolding and lecture. She inhaled with a hearty blast of hot air.
Tanners eyes popped wide open. Hellfire! When had Chris learned to do that? The young sharpshooter blinked as he found himself face to tusk with the large Indian elephant. Before he could remind himself that he was a macho, Texas cowboy, he let out a surprised, downright girly shriek that ended in a high-pitched squeak.
Goddamn. Memory flooded back and he scrambled to escape this huge gray monster before it could eat him alive. He had never seen such huge teeth in his life. He clapped a hand to his holster, only to find that his gun was gone. Trying to stand, he was horrified when his right ankle refused to take his weight and he fell right back down with a yelp of pain.
He crawled frantically away, desperately trying to reach the spot up the hill where he had dropped his rifle. Just as he placed a hand on the stock, something snagged the back of his drawers and pulled him relentlessly backwards. Vin Tanner, fearless sharpshooter, let out another hapless squeak, this one punctuated with a few choice cuss words.
Bella Luna was a softhearted creature. She was known among the circus folk for her habit of mothering various stray creatures, as well as fussing over her beloved, often-inebriated master. Since she had no other elephants for company, she compensated for her lack of a herd by forced adoptions. She gave a soft whuff of exasperation as her newest prize tried to escape her loving clutches.
Firmly, she wrapped the end of her versatile trunk around the back of Tanners suspenders and carefully lifted the wiggling tracker off the ground, dangling the young man like a human yoyo. She gave a soft rumble of reassurance, and flapped her ears contentedly at the stream of expletives issuing from her new baby. The invective was comfortingly familiar, although she was more used to the Italian version.
Perhaps a bath would help. Ponderously, she turned towards the creek, crooning matronly, elephantly rumbles meant to reassure her new offspring. Holding him carefully above any sharp rocks or brambles, she ambled through the gully. Vin dangled helplessly, cussing and fuming. Goddamn. What an embarrassing death. At least there was no one around to see.
Mr. Larabee! Mr. Larabee! Come quick!
Yosemite burst through the batwing doors, startling everyone with the noise. The liveryman gulped hard at the narrowed green glare that zeroed in on him. Before the gunslinger could shoot him, he continued.
Peso done come in alone! Hes all lathered up and I never seen THAT horse scared! Vins rifle scabbard is empty, too!
He was almost knocked over by a swirling, black clad whirlwind that nearly took the batwing doors off at the hinges. The rest of the peacekeepers scrambled to follow, Nathan sprinting for the clinic to grab his medical bag. In the corner, the fickle Giovanni danced happily with Swanhild, nose buried in her ample cleavage, all thoughts of his beloved Bella Luna temporarily forgotten.
Vin Tanner sputtered and choked as he was dunked vigorously for the fourth time in the deepest portion of the small winding creek. Goddamn! Since when did big, gray monsters have Baptist leanings? Must like their dinner clean. What a way to go. Larabee would probably bust those tight britches of his, laughing his ass off, if he saw this.
Bella Luna gave her new charge one final swirl, then held him up and examined him with a critical eye. At least he had quieted down, and he was much cleaner now. Tanner dangled limply from her trunk. He suspected that he looked like a drowned cat. He sure felt like one. He glared warily at his huge captor through a wet, tangled head of hair.
I done had me a bath Saturday, Ill have ya know!
Pleased that her new charge was talking with her, Bella Luna rumbled happily back at him.
Startled, Vin noticed that the monster was wearing a gaudy, silk tasseled pennant on her huge head, as well as a heavy, brass studded red leather collar. He frowned, brow wrinkling, as he remembered the tales Josiah had told him of India and its critters. Especially the sacred white SOMETHINGS that them rich kings rode Oiliphants? Elefinks? Nope! ELEPHANTS.
Well, damn. He had been kidnapped by an elephant. Wait till the boys heard about this! What a tale. He grinned, pleased and somewhat relieved to find himself in the clutches of an herbivore instead of a man-eating monster.
Now, if he could just persuade it to turn him loose.
The remaining peacekeepers rode grimly along Pesos back trail. It hadnt been hard to follow. The big horse had made a beeline from Rattlesnake Creek straight back home. The men were silent, a feeling of dread hovering over them all. If Vin had tangled with that damned bear after being thrown from his horse things could be very bad indeed.
Buck shot a look across at Chris. His old friend was dead silent, handsome face pale and grim under the flat brim of his hat. If something happened to Vin, he didnt want to even contemplate dealing with Larabee. The big man had stumbled on the two mens secret a couple months past, after nearly literally stumbling across the two making love in the livery.
He had been kind of shocked at first, but Buck Wilmington was never one to stand in the way of love, even if he didnt quite understand it. He suspected that Josiah and Ezra knew as well, but he kept quiet just to be certain.
A half hour later, Vin sat naked on the creek bank, dumping water out of his boots and wringing out his drawers. He felt twice as naked without his guns. He had finally persuaded the elephant to release him with a lot of sweet talk and a lump of soggy molasses candy dug out of his back pocket. Still, she (he had read her name stenciled on her collar) kept him close. If he ventured too far away, a long trunk would gently snake out and carefully tug him back.
His new friend was lying on her side in the deepest portion of the creek, blissfully spraying herself with water. The young man chuckled at the happy noises the big creature was making. When she lay down flat, the water in that deep pool covered her completely. Occasionally, that amazing trunk would emerge to sniff the air, check his whereabouts, or splash water around.
The elephant fascinated him. He had never seen one before, although he had heard of them. He frowned to himself. How the hell had an elephant ended up running wild in New Mexico? He figured there must be some kind of traveling show nearby that was missing its star attraction.
He had been pleased to find that his ankle was just sprained. Maybe Nate would cut him some slack and wouldnt lecture him too much. Hell, how often did a man tangle with both a grizzly and an elephant on the same day? He was damned lucky not to have been eaten alive or stomped as flat as a flitter. He wrapped his bandanna around the ankle and knotted it, grimacing at the sharp twinge.
A snapping twig from the far bank brought his head sharply up. A half dozen or so mounted, painted and well-armed Indians regarded him with grim satisfaction and here he sat, stark naked. This was a fine Howdy Do. No pants, no boots and no gun. Aw, Hell.
High Horse regarded the startled, naked white man with pleasure. Here was the perfect opportunity to practice his scalping skills. A Great Warrior needed to know these things. A white mans scalp and a fine string of stolen ponies would surely impress everyone back at camp.
What he didnt realize was that he had had the misfortune to liberally smear himself with bear grease while primping for the raid this morning. The odor was getting a bit strong under the hot, midday sun. Bella Luna, who had been dozing lightly in the water with only the tip of her trunk showing, caught a whiff. Was that big, ugly dog back again? What if it tried to bite her new baby!
She heaved herself up with a shrill, ear splitting trumpet to warn the creature off, waving her trunk vigorously and flapping her huge ears as the water cascaded off her massive shoulders. There was a moment of stunned, horrified silence from the young warriors as they froze in sheer terror. It was Chahuru! The evil Water Spirit emerging to devour them all!
Before they could DO anything, their sensible ponies bolted and scattered, fleeing in terror from this unknown creature. Ironically, the elderly Many Farts led the way, the typically mute Never Talks hanging on for dear life, amazed by the sudden burst of speed from his old steed. High Horse, unfortunately, was last, and the only one unfortunate enough to receive a cold blast of water from the irate Bella Luna, as she charged in pursuit.
Vin Tanner watched with a slack jaw and no small amount of amusement as the big elephant chased the small band of Pawnee up the ridge. He hurried to tug on his clothing and boots. While she was occupied, he would sneak back down the creek and try and find his guns and hat. If he was lucky, Peso may not have bolted too far away.
He hadnt managed to limp very far before there was a reproving, matronly rumble from behind him, and a motherly trunk curled snugly around his midsection and drew him close. Well, hell, so much for that idea. He gave a resigned sigh and closed his eyes tight as he was given several loving, moist smooches with the tip of her trunk. Elephant snot. Damn.
Determined to keep her wayward charge safe, Bella Luna swung the startled tracker up over her head and onto her neck. Vin clutched desperately at her huge ears, finally managing to get himself turned around facing in the right direction. He settled back, feeling a bit more secure. The view was quite nice from up here.
When he tentatively nudged her with his heels and gave a chirp, she amiably started walking along the gully, browsing from the greenery as they went. Vin gave a pleased grin and sat back to enjoy the ride. Wait until the boys saw this!
At the far end of the gully, six worried peacekeepers were trying to make sense out of a muddled mess of tracks, crushed brush and trampled grass. Bemused, JD Dunne scratched his head as he attempted to figure out what had happened to their friend, and what were these huge, round depressions? A grim Chris Larabee sat astride Pony on the rim of the gully, Tanners rifle and mares leg in hand.
They had found Vins guns and hat just outside the thorny tangled thicket that choked the gully. It worried the gunman that both were unfired. Larabee ran a sharp green gaze along the trampled earth. JD hadnt said it aloud, but it was plain that Tanner had been dragged back into the thicket and there was a clear set of grizzly tracks leading away from the gully, headed due north.
The situation was looking worse as time passed.
Nathan, Josiah and Ezra were looking grim, and Buck turned sorrowful eyes up the hill where Chris waited. There was so blood sign yet, but it did appear that Tanner had been dragged back into the brush by the bear, and only the grizzly tracks emerged. He hated to think of what they might find in there. It would be ugly and Buck Wilmington hated ugly with a passion. JD and Buck remounted their horses and looked silently at their silent leader, waiting for orders.
Before Larabee could open his mouth, there was a noisy crunch of snapped, trampled branches, and Bella Luna happily emerged from the gully trumpeting a friendly greeting to the men. She was delighted to see them. Finally! Someone had shown up to escort her back to the circus.
Their horses had much the same reaction as the Pawnees. With the exception of the imperturbable Pony, they turned and ran like hell for the safety of Four Corners, taking their riders with them. Not wanting to be left behind, Bella Luna hurried after them. Chris Larabee sat on the snorting Pony and watched open-mouthed as his men fled en masse, pursued by a large, trumpeting elephant. Perched on top was their intrepid sharpshooter.
Goddamn. Tanner had managed to wrangle an elephant! Vin gave him a little wave as he passed. Larabee could have sworn he saw a smirk as well. A broad grin splitting his generous mouth, the gunslinger shook his head in amazement and spurred Pony in pursuit. This was one tale he had to hear.
Vin held on to Bella Lunas ears for dear life as she pursued the regulators back towards town. How the hell did you get an elephant to whoa? He could hear Larabee cackling like a damned hyena behind them as he followed, and it WAS kind of funny to see the various incredulous expressions the boys kept shooting over their shoulders. Hell, the expression on Chris face alone had been priceless! This was bound to be worth a few free drinks at the saloon.
Chico Diaz swaggered out of the bank, a broad grin splitting his swarthy face. He had his pistola in one hand and a big bag of money in the other. His men grinned back from their horses. This had been the easiest bank robbery they had ever pulled off. So much for the reputation of Los Magnificos! Bah!
The regulators were all out of town and the majority of the townsfolk were at the circus. He had just strolled in; pistol whipped the teller, grabbed the money, leered at an old lady and walked back out. It had been easy. Now they would all head for Purgatorio and spend the night drinking and whoring.
He swung up into his saddle and reined his horse towards the end of town, his men whooping and following. They were startled to meet six grinning horsemen and a large elephant ridden by the seventh. Madre de Dios! Since when did lawmen ride elephants? That was his last coherent thought in the following chaos, before his terrified horse tossed him neatly into a nearby water trough, moneybag and all, and he conked the back of his head on the rim and nearly drowned.
Josiah Sanchez fished him out with a toothy grin and relieved him of both his pistola and his ill-gotten gains as the rest of his men and their panicked horses were quickly rounded up by the peacekeepers. The dreaded Diaz gang was clapped securely into jail almost before they realized it. Chico kept shooting bleary, soggy, disbelieving looks at the big, gray elephant as he was led away.
Giovanni emerged from the Saloon screeching with delight and babbling in Italian to meet the equally delighted, loudly trumpeting Bella Luna in the middle of the street. There was much emotional smooching and embracing between man and pachyderm. Vin decided to take full advantage of the distraction and slid stealthily off her back, intent on sneaking out of reach.
He eased between two feed wagons and nearly made a clean getaway, before a long black sleeved arm reached out and snagged the back of his collar. Larabee flashed him an evil shark grin.
Going somewhere, Cowboy?
The same arm wrapped firmly around his shoulders, and Larabee began to casually walk him away from the gathering crowd towards the nearby livery. Vin put up a weak protest.
Dont ya want to see the elephant, Chris? he asked meekly.
Oh, dont worry Tanner. Im gonna see the elephant alright.
He pushed the tracker into the gloomy stables and firmly bolted the door behind them.
Buck watched with a broad grin as Chris firmly sheparded the wayward sharpshooter away. He expected ol Vin had some fast explaining to do and would be busy for a while. Larabee had been damned worried. He ordered JD to hitch the horses to the nearby hitching posts for the time being and herded everybody towards the Saloon. Hell, the damned circus had nothing on Four Corners. He slapped Yosemite on the back and hollered:
Drinks are on me!
West of Four Corners, still traveling at a steady gallop, Never Talks sawed futilely at Many Farts reins. Bit clamped firmly between teeth, the old horse had shown no sign of slowing down yet, although he farted steadily with every other hoof beat. He was still going strong when they galloped over a hill and plowed right through the middle of Guy Royals remuda of stock horses.
Royals wrangler could only watch helplessly as his bosss prize mares stampeded and followed the old pony. Recognizing a good thing when he saw it, Never Talks gave a triumphant whoop and hung on tight. He finally managed to rein Many Farts in the direction he wanted to go and slow him down to a lope. For the first time in his quiet, unremarkable life, he had quite a tale to tell the tribe.
Eventually, he would be known among the People as Many Horses, and Many Farts would remain a prized pet of his and Doe Eyes growing family, to be staked by the tipi every night and stuffed with treats.
The unnerved High Horse and the remainder of the band would straggle in a day later to be jeered at and heckled by the tribe.
Sometime later, snug up in the livery hayloft, there was a soft moan and a contented sigh followed by a raspy chuckle. Tanner and Larabee lay entangled together on Larabees duster in a sated, sweaty heap. Chris clothes were open from throat to crotch and Vin wore only his shirt.
Larabees mouth was buried in Tanners damp, sweaty hair and one calloused hand was splayed across Vins belly. Vin stretched lazily, arching like a cat under Chris possessive hand. He tilted his head for his lovers deep, languid kiss. Their mouths parted reluctantly with a soft, wet smack.
Damn, Larabee. That done beat any elephant I ever seen.
Three days later, Swanhild Eldonsdotter Gunnerson Verdi waved goodbye from Bella Lunas back as she joined her new husband in his profession as elephant handler. Giovanni spoke only Italian, Swanhild spoke only Norwegian, but the language of love was universal. Buck sniffed sadly, blew his nose in his kerchief and waved goodbye from the porch of the saloon. He was a sucker for romance. Besides, he would miss Swanhild and her meloni.