The Magnificent Seven
The Ballad of Bad-Ass Beamington
by Sarah B.
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At that moment, a few miles away, JD was leading the horse that was carrying Bad-Ass Beamington to Four Corners in chains.
Well, not chains, exactly, and JD hadn't wanted to tie up Jonathon at all, but Jonathon insisted it was necessary; he'd known from experience, he said, that his appearance alone might send the town into a panic, and it was best to make it obvious he could pose no threat.
So JD had, reluctantly, loosely tied the older man's hands together and helped him mount his horse, a nice black mare whose name, Jonathon said, was Mary. Then he had lit one of Jonathon's lanterns and carefully led the horse and its rider out of the hills and towards the town in almost total darkness.
It would be slow going, JD knew, until they hit the main road, and first they had to stop by that set of bushes so he could retrieve his bowler hat. All his concentration was on making sure they didn't stumble over any boulders, so when Jonathon asked him a question he had to ask him to repeat it.
"I said, what made you decide to become a lawman?" Jonathon reprised.
"Oh." JD turned momentarily to look at his prisoner, but Jonathon was wearing his black opera cape and hat, and so was almost invisible even in the lantern's light.
He thought about the question a moment, then shrugged. "I don't know. It's sure not what it's cracked up to be."
Jonathon chuckled. "You mean the dime novels have lied yet again?"
JD nodded, a bit chagrined. "Yeah. I mean, when I took the job I thought I was gonna be the next Bat Masterson."
"You admire him, do you?"
"Well, sure!" JD said excitedly, "He cleaned up Dodge City. He does excitin' stuff all the time. And I'm stuck here." He glowered at the lights shining far ahead of them.
Jonathon was quiet for a moment, then said, "Well, even Mr. Masterson started somewhere, son. You got what it takes to make a proper lawman, I can see that."
"You think so?" JD asked, suddenly aware that for some reason this man's opinion meant a lot to him.
"Well, of course I do! Not everybody who encounters Bad-Ass Beamington retains the precence of mind to draw his gun and place him under arrest, I can tell you that."
"Huh." JD tilted his head.
"Not to mention risking getting himself killed by a mountain lion just to save an old man's hide. No, that ain't everyday off-the-shelf courage you got, son. It's special."
JD scratched the back of his head. "Buck says it's gonna get me killed one of these days."
"Buck? Is he one of your friends?"
JD nodded, holding the lantern a little closer to the ground as they approached a particularly rocky path. "He's all right, but just because he's older than me he treats me like I'm still a little kid. If he'd been with me, he wouldn't have let me near that cougar."
"Never lets you in on the fun, does he?"
"No," JD groused, feeling himself slipping into a brood. "Even though I've already proven I'm just as good in a fight as he is. Sometimes I think I'm gonna have to prove myself for the rest of my life."
JD could hear the smile in Jonathon's voice as he replied, "Well, it's not altogether bad to have someone looking out for you.
"I guess." JD admitted reluctantly.
"Wish I'd had someone like that when I was your age." Jonathon added wistfully. " Mighta made a difference."
JD looked back at him again. "So you really think I could be like Bat?"
"Well, you got to work on your nerves," Jonathon offered.
"Nerves. Got it."
Jonathon nodded. "Good lawman's got nerves of steel. Could stare down a grizzly bear twice his height if he had to."
"Every time I try that," JD moaned, "my mouth just ends up hanging open."
"Well, it ain't something that you get all at once," Jonathon said, "Comes with experience. One of these days you'll be facing down some desperate bandit, and you'll look at him, and all the memories of all the bad things that ever happened to you because of men like him will come up in your brain, and you'll find out you can stare right in his eye and not move a muscle."
JD marvelled at this bit of logic. "Say, is that what how you did it?"
Jonathon paused. "Well, I was on the wrong side of the law, but I suppose the principle is the same."
"Point is, a good lawman realizes that the key to bringing down fellers like me is to remember that evil is terrified of justice."
JD nodded his head appreciatively, looking ahead of him at the flat plain that marked the road to home. "That's mighty poetic, Mr. Porter."
"Well, it's true, son. You remember that, you'll be the best lawman that ever was."
The saloon was getting brighter and livelier by the moment - or at least it seemed that way to Vin, who had just finished another beer and looked around the crowded, smoky room as he picked up the hand Josiah had just dealt him.
It was raining out, little more than a drizzle, but despite the damp clammy air the place was noisy with activity. Ezra had, as usual, set up a poker game in the back nook and was busy rooking the tourists and dispensing enough humor so they hardly noticed he was stripping them blind.
Vin's sharp eyes scanned the room; there were the locals, some working girls, a few hardened drinkers who had passed out in various positions at tables and on the floor.
"Reckon it's gonna be a dull night," he said almost hopefully.
"Not for Buck," Josiah commented, studying his hand closely.
Vin hid a smile, glanced out the saloon doors into the darkness.
As he was looking in that direction, the saloon doors swung open and three rough-looking young men entered, dripping from the rain. Vin's eyes narrowed.
"Nathan," he said.
"Hm?" Nathan answered, looking up from his hand.
"Those three that just came in."
Nathan peered at them, his face puckering, then growing taut with recognition. "Some of them kids from the church."
At that, Josiah turned too, regarding the new arrivals with an appraising eye. "Looks like they been out in the rain awhile."
"Hidin' out, waitin' for Bad-Ass," Nathan deduced, shaking his head. "What's in thier heads, anyway?"
"Same thing that's in lots of kids' heads. Dreams and ambitions." Josiah answered, tossing out a card as he watched one of the youths notice Ezra, cock his head interestingly, and push his way to the poker table.
Vin noticed it too, and tensed a bit, his hand going automatically for his Winchester, but the youth didn't seem to want to pick a fight. Instead, he said something to Ezra, pulled out a roll of cash, and smiled as the gambler flashed his gold tooth and beckoned to an empty chair at the table.
Vin sighed, looked at the other two ruffians who were milling about the saloon, then at his friends. "Reckon I'd better go find Chris."
Josiah nodded, and said in low tones as Vin stood and reached for his hat, "That's what you get for sayin' it was gonna be a dull night."
Chris walked Buck and his horse to the edge of town, not saying a word although Buck knew that his friend was probably still disappointed in him.
Buck knew better than to say anything either, not that he would know what to say anyway, he thought as he listened to the horse's hooves crunch against the stones that lined the main street.
They reached the edge of town, and Buck stopped and gazed back at the mist-enshrouded streets, mostly deserted, and thought they looked like he felt. He ventured a look at Chris, saw fading anger in the set face under the dripping black hat.
"Watch your back." Chris said in clipped tones as Buck mounted his horse. "Bad-Ass is probably out there someplace."
Buck nodded curtly, and hitching his horse around, trotted off into the dampness.
Chris was still standing there, chilled with the rain but not caring, when Vin came up behind him and said, "We maybe got trouble."
Chris dipped his head, let the rain run off his hat. "Yeah?"
"Some of Jimmy's gang is at the saloon."
Chris sighed, turned toward the bounty hunter, noticed that Vin didn't seem to mind the heaviness of the rain, paid it no more mind than he did other things. "Well, I guess it's time for a show of force. You ready?"
Vin smiled, his eyes scrunching into half-moons. "Yep."
Chris began walking slowly, reached up to wipe the mist from his neck. At length he said, "Buck's off to find JD."
Vin simply nodded.
Chris suddenly stopped, looked at his friend in the flickering darkness. "Did I do the wrong thing here, Vin?"
Vin halted, searched Chris' face with alerted eyes.
"Should I have just let JD stay in town?"
Vin winced in thought, scratched his chin thoughtfully, finally said in his relaxed drawl, "Well, Chris, I reckon it's pretty hard to know what to do all the time. You didn't ask for this job, it just sort of found you, and I for one ain't never gonna reproach you for wantin' to keep us from doin' somethin' stupid."
Vin paused, his eyes distant. "Still, I think the time is gonna come pretty soon when JD ain't gonna need to be looked after no more. He wants to be a man pretty bad, and I reckon it's best for all of us if we just let him become one ."
"If he doesn't get killed first." Chris said, staring after Buck.
"Well," Vin said slowly as they resumed thier amble toward the saloon, "Just remember it ain't on your head. And it never was."
From his post at the jailhouse door, the man Chris asked to watch over Jimmy was still fiddling nervously with his tie and watching the tiny figure of Chris way down the misty street.
Why doesn't he get back already, the man fumed. He cast an agitated glance at the kid in the jail cell, but he was huddled in one dark corner, glaring at the man with eyes that seemed to glow in the dark. Swallowing anxiously, the man squinted down the street once more, and saw that the two figures were walking, very slowly, back his way.
In the cell, Jimmy chewed on the cigarette dangling in his mouth and, turning the match over in one grubby hand, stared at the back of the man's head and thought about splattering it all over the jailhouse walls. But, it wasn't time yet. He held the match up, looked at it, and continued turning it over as he watched the nervous man.
"Anything happening?" Nathan asked as he set his drink down and picked up his cards.
Josiah lifted his eyes and peered at the poker table in the back, slightly shaking his head. "Nope. They're still just playing cards."
"Hm." Nathan regarded his hand disinterestedly. At that moment, the saloon doors swung open again and four more young men came in. Nathan immediately recognized them and tensed. "Josiah."
Josiah's eyebrows went up, and he followed Nathan's gaze to the men, who had gone to the bar, then turned back to his friend and nodded a little. His eyes said, and Nathan's answered: Be ready.
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At the poker table, Ezra was congratulating himself at his good fortune. The day up until this point had been a tedious dry spell, but now he was back in his element, and the evening promised to be a rich one.
"Who's in for another hand?" He said cheerfully, shuffling the cards and casting his green eyes around the table. A few of the cardplayers were people he knew, but the other four or five were strangers to him. All the better - they had more money.
Responding to the nods he received, Ezra began expertly dealing out the deck, glancing at the unshaven youth on his left, who appeared to be distracted. "What about you, young sir? Care to make an attempt at regaining some of your lost wealth?"
Ezra was too intent on the cards to notice the youth glance over at the bar and smirk to himself before getting up slowly.
Ezra looked at him again, then put his eyes back on his dealing. "Do you wish to settle, then?" He asked.
"Yeah." The youth growled in a tone that was distinctly unfriendly, and pulled out a small but wicked-looking knife.
Ezra saw it, stopped his dealing, and raised two elegant eyebrows questioningly.
"Gimme your money." The youth rumbled.
Ezra smiled disarmingly. "Surely you are not attempting a robbery in a public establishment?"
The youth leaned forward, towering over the gambler. "I said, gimme your money!"
Ezra sighed, clearly put off. The other poker players were backing away from the table as best they could, and Nathan and Josiah had seen what was going on and gotten up from their seats.
"Young man," Ezra said easily, gazing at the youth in genteel disgust, "You should not partake in the gambling arts if you have no taste for losing." With that, he flicked his right arm imperceptably and the Derringer he kept hidden up his sleeve shot out with lightning swiftness.
The youth started, and backed off a bit as he stared at the tiny gun Ezra was now very seriously pointing at his head.
"Now," Ezra purred, "I would suggest a recalculation of your strategy."
In his cell, Jimmy had seen the four members of his gang walk by and, calmly striking the match on his battered shoe, slowly lit his cigarette. Taking a long drag, he gazed through slitted eyes at the citizen at the jailhouse door, making sure the man wasn't watching him. He wasn't. Blowing out a long trail of white-blue smoke, Jimmy then casually dropped the burning match on the mattress of his cot.
Josiah and Nathan cautiously edged their way up to the raised area where Ezra was still seated with his Derringer steadily pointed at the youth's face. The other saloon patrons had begun noticing what was happening, and were falling silent and staring at the unfolding scene. If nothing else, it was a good show.
"Now, don't do nothing stupid, boy," Nathan said in a soothing voice as he crept up on the knife-wielding young man.
Josiah, his hand slowly sweeping his jacket away from his gunbelt, looked over his shoulder at the four youths at the bar. They were glaring at him and Nathan, and he saw one give a little nod to the other three.
He kept his eye on them as Nathan edged closer to the poker table, his left hand out, beckoning calmness, even as his right hand gently eased his gun out of its holster.
Josiah crept alongside his friend, but his gaze never left the group at the bar. "Nathan, I think we've got - "
Before he could finish, all four youths hauled out huge sawed-off shotguns.
Josiah's eyes widened as he yelled, "EVERYBODY GET DOWN!!"
Nathan, his eyes still on the poker table, crouched as he heard the panicked screech of wooden furniture skidding across the floor behind him as the bar patrons dove for cover. Ezra flinched at the sudden noise, glanced at the bar, and before Nathan could react, the knife-wielding youth lunged at the gambler, grabbed Ezra's gun hand, pushed it away and fell on top of him as the group at the bar opened fire.
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Still halfway down the street, Chris and Vin both started at the sound of gunfire, then without even looking at each other yanked their guns out and bolted toward the saloon.
Josiah and Nathan dove for the nearest table, upending it and returning fire to the four boys who had run behind the bar, shoved the bartender out and were taking potshots at the civilians who were now scattering around the room in panic, some of them with their own guns out, and some trying to make it to the door.
The gunfire was loud, very loud; Nathan knew Josiah was yelling something at him, but couldn't hear above the shots and the shouting of the frightened bar patrons.
Nathan turned to see how Ezra was doing, but before his head had gotten even halfway around he felt a gun barrel jammed into his back. He stiffened, instinctively bracing himself against certain pain; at almost the same instant he heard a loud gunshot and something large fell on top of him. Hurriedly, he pushed the object away, noticing only when it fell beside him that it was the knife-wielding youth, gun in hand, dead. He looked up into the corner of the poker area to see Ezra half-lunged over the poker table, his derringer still smoking. Nathan began to smile in thanks, but there was something wrong in Ezra's eyes, and there was bright red blood on the front of his ruffled white shirt and brocaded vest. As Nathan watched, the derringer clattered to the floor and Ezra crumpled onto the table in pain, red blood staining the green felt to thick black.
The terrified bar patrons thronged past Chris and Vin, shoved and pushed at them as the hired guns tried to swim against the tide toward the saloon door as the shots continued ringing out.
"What's going on?" Chris shouted.
Vin peered over heads, cursed. "Looks like Jimmy's boys!"
"Shit," Chris hissed, and craned his neck to see down the street. He cocked his gun and worked his way out of the crowd and toward the jail.
Vin marked his departure, then looked at the saloon window, now half-shot out. Pulling his hat low onto his head, Vin broke from the streaming crowd and, tucking himself into a ball, barrelled through the window,and fell to the saloon floor in a hail of broken glass and wood.
The citizen at the jail peered down the street, sweating and rubbing his hands together at the sound of gunfire and the sight of all those people running out into the street.
The man turned his head toward the jail cell, and cried out, "Oh!"
The mattress in the jail cell was on fire, burning rapidly, and the young man he was supposed to watch was cringing at the farthest end of his cell, crying, "Get me out of here! I'm gonna burn up!"
The man automatically reached for the cell keys and ran for the cell to unlock it, but halfway there he stopped and blinked uncertainly. "B-but I'm not supposed to - "
"Hurry up!!" The youth screamed over the roar of the fire and the yelling outside and the exploding gunshots. He grasped the bars and stared at the citizen in wide-eyed fright, "Please mister, don't let me burn!"
Trembling, the man took a step forward, two steps back, looked towards the door. "I'd better go get Mr. Larabee..."
Jimmy screamed and kicked the mattress off the bed so it would land on the floor. Burning bits of straw and fabric scattered everywhere, and he screamed again. "Please let me out, I won't run! You can't just let me burn!!"
Cringing himself against all the sudden noise and light and confusion, the man gave in and as quick as he could thrust the key into the cell door and opened it, offering Jimmy a hand around the burning mattress.
"There you go," He said timidly as Jimmy landed safely outside the cell. Putting the keys down, he turned towards the door. "Now you just stay right there and I'll get some water to - "
He got about halfway to the door before Jimmy quickly raised his gun and shot him squarely in the back. The man tumbled to the floor and didn't move.
Jimmy sauntered to the door, paused briefly, looked at the burning mattress, the smoky room, the sprawled body. And grinned as he took another drag on his cigarette and said one word to the dead man.
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Shaking the glass from his hair, Vin hurriedly rose from the floor and darted his eyes around the room, quickly assaying the situation: the four boys from Jimmy's gang were still firing from behind the bar, although one of them was holding a dirty rag to his bleeding scalp as he shot his gun with the other hand; many of the bar patrons had cleared out, leaving only a few terrified souls crouching in corners, and themselves. In the brightly lit smoke that hung acrid in the air, Vin made out Josiah's face peering over an upturned table and, priming his Winchester, darted over to where his friend was sheltered as the four youths aimed their guns and fired at him.
As soon as he was behind the table, Vin risked another glance around and saw, indistinctly through the smoke, a bloodstained poker table upended in the far corner of the room, and the top of Nathan's head behind it.
"Ezra's down!" Josiah yelled to Vin over the ricocheting bullets.
Vin's eyes widened momentarily, then he set his jaw and half-rose from behind the table and called out to the gunmen.
"Don't be stupid, boys!" He yelled hoarsely. "Give this up, or we're gonna have to take you out!"
The rough-looking youths just looked at each other and laughed, even the wounded one, and kept firing at anything that moved.
Vin took quick aim and shot the tallest boy's hat off.
There was a shocked pause as all four boys stared at the buffalo hunter, who stood, re-aimed his gun at the tallest boys' head and said in a very soft voice, "Like I said. Now, I don't so much mind blowin' your head off, but I would hate to ruin a good hat."
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Chris ran as fast as he could to the jailhouse, saw as he got closer the black smoke curling through the open door. His gun drawn, he reached the door frame, looked quickly in, saw nothing but thick rolling darkness. Then he saw the body on the floor.
Chris groaned, swiftly kneeling beside the stricken citizen and checking for any sign of life. Nothing. Then his eyes darted toward the small black hole in the man's back. Then to the jail cell, where the mattress was still smoldering, red embers glowing softly in the bitter gloom.
He looked up, around, his face set in a fierce grimace. He stood, backed out of the jailhouse, surveying the street.
"God damn it." He growled between clenched teeth, and took off for the alleys behind the jailhouse at a determined pace.
Ezra took another pull from his hip flask as Nathan used one of his knives to gently cut the bloodstained shirt away from his right arm. He tried not to wince as the fabric was pulled down and away from the deep gashes in his shoulder and down the length of his arm.
He regarded Nathan through half-lidded eyes fogged with pain and between heavy breaths asked, "Well, doctor, what is the prognosis?"
Nathan attempted a half-smile, hunching over as a bullet thudded into the table behind him. As he took the sleeve off he looked around for something, anything, to staunch the blood with. "You'll live. You ain't gonna get no more use out of this fancy shirt, though."
"A small matter," Ezra mumbled, taking another drink and closing his eyes. "I have already exacted my revenge."
"Yeah, well," Nathan leaned forward and said in a low voice, "Don't worry. I won't tell nobody you was really saving my life."
Ezra opened his eyes a little, smiled woozily as the bullets continued to fly about them. "Much obliged."
At that moment, about a mile outside the town, Buck had just turned his head at the sound of what seemed to be gunfire coming from the town. Of course, at that distance he couldn't be sure, but he nevertheless was in the process of both turning his horse around and trying to come up with a plausible lie to tell Chris when he asked why the hell he hadn't gone out and gotten JD when a dim light in the far distance caught his eye.
Buck stopped his horse and squinted into the darkness. It was a small, round light, like a lantern light, coming slowly up the main road toward the town. Buck hurriedly spurred his horse toward it and, when he got close enough, saw the outlines, then the features, of an old man in a black cape on a black horse and next to him a young man in a distinctive bowler hat. JD.
"Hey!" Buck called out, trotting quickly to where the boy was walking. "Hey!!"
Glowing amber by the lantern light, JD peered into the darkness. "Buck?"
"Hey there, kid!" Buck smiled, betraying a little too much that he was, in fact, overwhelmingly relieved that the kid was all right. "We'd best get back to town. Something's happening right now and I think they're gonna need our guns."
"Oh!" JD glanced up at the old man on the horse, then back at Buck, "You mean right now?"
"Right now, kid!" Buck repeated, and wheeling his horse around sped back toward town.
Without a pause, JD blew out the lantern and swiftly heaved himself into the black mare's saddle, in front of Jonathon.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Porter," He said as he took the reins, "Just grab on as best you can, I gotta ride fast."
"No problem, son," Jonathon said obligingly, grabbing the back of JD's jacket with his bound hands as the youth prodded his horse forward. "No problem at all."
Chris walked swiftly down the narrow alley, his gun at eye level, every nerve primed. Hot anger rivalled with steeled determination as his eyes swept the alley, looking for any sign of movement...
Nothing. Cursing his luck, Chris darted out once again onto the main street, trying not to think about the rapid gunfire that was still erupting from the nearby saloon. Frightened townspeople were huddling in doorways and across the street, whispering nervously and pointing, first at the saloon, then at Chris, then down the street. Damn it, Chris thought, why don't they just go home, and suddenly he felt very tired.
Suddenly he heard hoofbeats behind him, and a bullet hit the ground at his feet from behind. Chris spun around. In the dim light of the town's lights he saw Jimmy riding full tilt at him, screaming and brandishing a small gun.
Quickly, Chris raised his gun to fire, but at that instant another bullet splintered a post right by his head and two other horsemen came whipping out of an alley across the way. Chris fired at them, and hit one, but the other joined Jimmy and together they sped down the street.
"Stop those men!" Chris yelled at the townspeople, knowing even as he said it that it was a futile plea. Numbed, the people cringed away from the horsemen as they raced past. Cursing, Chris ran for his horse even as he watched Jimmy and his saddlemate dissappear around the bend of the street.
Back in the bar, Vin kept a steady bead on the four youths who were eyeing him uncertainly from behind the bar, the tallest one staring at his punctured hat, which lay nearby.
Josiah slowly stood next to him. "Now, come on boys," the former preacher intoned softly. "You know you don't want to end up dead like your friend."
Four grubby faces searched his, then the body of the knife-wielder, lying twisted and bleeding on the floor. The saloon was empty now, quiet, thin wisps of blue smoke still hanging in the warm night air. In the deafening stillness, both Vin and Josiah could hear Ezra's labored breathing as he lay in the corner, still being tended by Nathan.
Josiah shook his head, blue eyes pleading as he steadied his gun and said in level-voiced sincerity, "Boys, please think about this. Please, don't make me shoot you."
There was a long pause, during which Josiah could see the boys mentally reviewing their chance of escape against Vin's sawed-off Winchester. Before they had made up their minds, however, all in the saloon heard distant whooping and shouting. The boys at the bar immediately looked at each other and grinned, then raising thier pistols began firing and running for the door at the same time.
"Aw, shit!" Vin cried, and fired his Winchester. One boy went down before he got to the door, shot in the leg.
The other three stumbled over him, one fell, dropped his gun and covered his head as the other two ran over him in thier haste. Vin leaned forward and grabbed his collar as Josiah lept over him onto the front porch of the saloon.
"Stop!" Josiah thundered in his best Old-Testament voice at the retreating figures, but it was no use; they were running away, gone from his influence, and Josiah sadly lowered his pistol.
A moment later he heard other hoofbeats, and Chris came ripping up the street on his charger, pausing only momentarily when he saw Josiah standing on the saloon porch.
"Jimmy's out!" He hollered, spurring his horse once again. "Come on!"
Josiah quickly holstered his gun and turned to Vin, who was dragging the captured gang member to his feet. The boy offered no resistance. Vin glanced up at Josiah, then back to the corner where Nathan was still kneeling, wrapping Ezra's bleeding arm in what looked like an old towel. Even through the smoke and distance, both men could see the alarming paleness in the gambler's face, the huge amount of blood that covered his shirt, the floor, Nathan's arms.
Josiah took Vin's arm, gently pushed him towards the door. "I'll keep an eye on things here."
Nodding swiftly, Vin holstered his Winchester, handed the boy to Josiah, and ran like lightning for his horse.
JD pulled up alongside Buck as they galloped toward the outskirts of Four Corners.
"What's going on?" He shouted, hearing as he knew Buck did the sounds of shots coming from the town.
"We got problems, kid!" Buck yelled back, only glancing at the top-hatted stranger clinging to JD's jacket. "Some renegade named Bad-Ass Beamington's come into town - "
"What!" JD yelped.
Buck nodded, "That's probably him shootin' the place up right now."
JD started laughing. "Buck - "
"Now I know how much you want to fight him, son , but you best leave him to me and Chris - "
Now JD was laughing and shaking his head too, and gave Buck an irritated look. "Buck, I'm not a child! You don't - "
Jonathon suddenly jerked on the back of JD's jacket and yelled, "Look out!"
JD jumped and turned his eyes straight ahead. Three horsemen were pounding up the road toward them, yelling and brandishing long pistols, and behind them JD could make out Chris and Vin, great clouds of dust rising behind them as they sped, all too fast, toward the spot where JD and Buck stood.
"Stop them!" They heard Chris shout as Vin picked off one of the horsemen.
For JD it was all the impetus he needed. Pulling out his gun, he turned around in his saddle and said to Jonathon, "You better get down."
Jonathon nodded and silently slid off the horse.
As soon as he had done so, JD looked at Buck, whose gun was out and ready, and cocked his Colt Lightning.
Buck leaned sideways in his saddle, his eyes on Jonathon. "Say, who is that fella you got riding with you anyways?"
"Oh, him?" JD smiled nonchalantly, idly spinning the cylinder on his Colt. "That's Bad-Ass Beamington. I arrested him in the desert."
Buck was so shocked he laughed. "Git out!" He sputtered, and craned his neck, surveyed the dark-clad man now leaning against a protective boulder, gloves off, fingers obviously missing.
But JD kept looking at his gun. "Oh, and Buck - I figured it out." He looked up then, arch sarcasm in his eyes. "There ain't no such thing as a snipe."
A bullet shattered splinters off the boulder just behind Buck's head as he stammered, shrugged, finally managed a stupid half-smile and whispered, "Now you tell me."
With that, the two friends spurred thier horses into the battle.
Chris had to pull his horse up sharply to avoid slamming into the back of Jimmy's mount, who had shied in fright at the sudden plethora of horsemen barring the way out of Four Corners. For a moment, Chris thought Jimmy might surrender, but instead the boy, screaming curses, hauled his horse around and screamed at his cohort to follow him as he broke for the open desert.
But before they had gone twenty paces Vin's Winchester boomed, and Jimmy's cohort plunged off his saddle into the dust. Buck and JD whipped thier horses in front of Jimmy's, too close for the youth to get around. Jimmy's mount reared up again, and Jimmy turned his horse in a tight circle, frantic, panicked now, but Vin, Chris, JD, and Buck were surrounding him, closing in, thier guns aimed at him squarely. Jimmy was trapped.
Chris gave the boy an icy stare as he trained his gun at the renegade boy's temple. "Give it up, son. You got nowhere else to go."
JImmy didn't anything but was still brandishing his pistol and twisting his head behind him, as if unable to believe his gang was gone. There was total silence, save for Jimmy's ragged breathing, which grew louder as he realized he was caught.
Chris kept his eyes on Jimmy. "JD, Take Jimmy here back to the jail. We gotta do him up for murder."
Jimmy roused then, raised his pistol shakily, "No! You ain't takin' me back there!"
"Shut up!" Chris snapped, his eyes blazing hot. "You murdered a man, you're gonna stand trial for it, and if there's any justice you're gonna hang for it."
Jimmy blinked, seemed shocked, gazing about him blankly as Buck carefully maneuvered himself beside the youth and put his hand on the barrel of Jimmy's gun.
The boy started, stared at him with wide, uncomprehending eyes. Softly Buck said,"Give up?"
Jimmy looked at him, blinked, slumped over his saddle in surrender.
"Good boy," Buck said, and gently began to pull the gun away.
With a sudden, inarticulate cry, Jimmy sprang up, tore the pistol from Buck's grasp and, as his horse reared back, shot him.
"Buck!" JD cried as his friend pitched to the ground, grabbing at his neck. Jimmy barreled his horse around and sped back towards the town.
In a flash, JD shot his horse forward, and before Chris and Vin could even bring thier horses around he caught up to Jimmy, drew even, and flinging himself at the boy brought both of them down into the street.
Jimmy rolled over in the dust, spat an obscenity, and started to climb to his feet, gun in hand. JD was already standing, both Colts out and aimed, and when Jimmy looked at him there was white-hot anger in those longlashed hazel eyes.
"You move a muscle," JD growled, "And I'll put you in a pine box."
Jimmy paused, began to raise his pistol.
JD quickly stepped closer, his gun barrels inches from Jimmy's face. "I mean it.."
Chris debated whether to move in closer, afraid that any movement would cause Jimmy to snap and kill JD before the boy could react. Vin had already carefully dismounted and bent over Buck, who was wincing at the blood seeping from underneath the hand at his neck. But even Vin and Buck had stopped, and were watching the scene unfolding in the street.
Jimmy stood motionless, still in a half-crouch, his gun halfway up but not moving. JD, although just Jimmy's height, seemed to tower over the youth, his back ramrod straight, the guns unwavering.
"I'm the law here. Drop your gun." He said in a soft, even voice.
Jimmy's eyes narrowed, and his bravado came back. "You ain't no lawman," he sneered, "You ain't barely out of diapers."
Chris saw JD's eyes flare, but he didn't move.
Townspeople were starting to peek out of windows and doors now, and Chris felt a sudden rush of fear - any of them could inadvertantly set Jimmy off, and there would be a dozen dead civilians instead of just one.
JD kept his guns level. "Drop the gun." He repeated.
Jimmy spat at him. "Make me."
"Son, don't be stupid!"
Chris blinked - where had that voice come from? Squinting, he saw Jimmy turn toward an old man dressed in black, who was slowly making his way up the sidewalk behind JD, his face set in dark anger. The man raised his bound hands, and Chris' heart stopped. It was Bad-Ass Beamington.
JD didn't turn around, but he saw Jimmy's face light up, and the boy visibly relaxed. "Bad-Ass!" he called happily, "Wanna help me take this kid out?"
For a moment, Chris felt his windpipe constrict, but astonishingly Bad-Ass didn't make a move, simply said glumly, "I can't. He's arrested me."
"What?" Jimmy's expression changed to confusion as he looked JD up and down. "That's impossible."
JD set his jaw, gazed at Jimmy sternly. "Believe it."
"Trust me, son," Jonathon pleaded darkly, "You don't know who you're dealing with. Surrender peacefully, and you can - "
Jimmy started laughing crazily, "Surrender peacefully? Is this a joke?"
"Does it look like a joke?" JD said lightly, never moving his guns.
Jimmy's confusion seemed to mount, and he looked from Jonathon to JD in total bewilderment. Finally he said, "Come on, Bad-Ass, help me out here! I came here to join you! Help me dust this kid and we'll both wreck this town!"
Jonathon scowled at the youth. "Join me? What makes you think I'd take a worthless little punk like you?"
Jimmy's eyes darted back to the twin Colts pointed at his brain. "I ain't a worthless punk! I'm just like you! Didn't you see me shoot that gunslinger?" "I did," Jonathon said, "And a more craven act of cowardice I've never seen."
Jimmy shook his head, "You - you can't call me a coward! I've shot six men, I got a gang, we, we tore up the saloon, we sliced up some fancy gambling man - "
JD's head snapped back. "What?"
Jimmy smirked. "Yeah, my boys told me all about it. Some southern smartass made a move on one of my men and we cut up him up into ribbons."
JD shot a glance to Chris - Ezra? - and Chris gave a solemn nod.
Jimmy sneered. "Now you impressed, baby lawman? You wanna be dead as he - "
Before Jimmy could get another sound out, JD rushed forward and booted him in the chest, slamming him hard to the dirt street. Jimmy tried to rise, but JD pressed his foot into his chest, both Colts stilled aimed unerringly at his face. Jimmy screwed up his face to curse, but one look at JD's face stopped him.
Chris noticed it too, sitting on his horse a dozen yards away, and winced at the clarity of emotion that was now setting on JD's face, indeed in every inch of him.
There was nothing of the reckless youth, the inexperienced boy, the uncertain child in the face that was staring Jimmy down. It was hard, stern, and cold as the bottom of the sea in January.
JD spoke through clenched teeth, his voice brittle and tight. "Drop. The goddamn. Gun."
Jimmy's eyes widened, his mouth worked, but nothing came out.
Gasping, Jimmy looked at the gun in his hand, then at Jonathon, who was standing expressionless on the sidewalk. When their eyes connected, he half-tossed his gun in Jonathon's direction, gasping, "Bad-Ass! Shoot him!"
Jonathon blinked, looked at the gun lying half-buried in the dirt, didn't move.
Jimmy gaped at his hero, Bad-Ass Beamington, astonished. "Bad-Ass, come on!"
JD didn't flicker, kept his guns trained on Jimmy's forehead.
Chris held his breath; he had no real idea what Bad-Ass' motives were, and knew if Bad-Ass wanted to he could dive for the gun and kill JD before any of them could even blink. He kept his own gun aimed steady, praying that maybe the old man would be just a little tired...
But, surprisingly, when Jonathon did move it was with deliberate slowness. Quietly, above the jarring noise of Jimmy's ragged breathing, Jonathon walked calmly into the street, picked up the gun -
- and unceremoniously handed it to JD.
Chris waited until he saw JD take the gun and pocket it, then dismounted and kneeled beside Vin, who was propping Buck up and examining his neck wound.
"How is he?" Chris asked, peering into Buck's face with concern.
"He's all right," Vin drawled, "Grazed his neck is all."
Chris smiled, relieved, then noticed that Buck wasn't even looking at him, was instead staring open-mouthed at JD, who was roughly hauling the dazed Jimmy to his feet.
Finally Buck whispered, "Hey, Chris?"
Buck gestured toward the street."What the hell was that?"
Chris looked at Vin, smiled, glanced over at JD leading Jimmy and Bad-Ass Beamington to jail amid the looks and comments of the townspeople, and said, "Don't pay it no mind, Buck. Just somebody's time comin'. That's all."
The spring sun was bright and warm on Chris' shoulders as he strode down the main street of Four Corners early the next day. He had just left Ezra's room, where Nathan was changing the bandage on the gambler's arm and trying to persuade him that he needed to take it easy for a while. Chris smiled tightly at the memory of the night before when, after herding Jimmy and Jonathon into the now somewhat smoky town jail and making sure Buck was not seriously hurt, JD had insisted on visiting Ezra, an act that seemed to touch and surprise the supposedly jaded cardsharp. Chris mentally added the healer's reassurance that Ezra was going to be all right to his list of good news for the day; he needed all he could get.
As he walked down the street, Chris' eyes wandered to the jailhouse, where small crowds had been gathering all morning, everyone anxious at the news that the notorious Bad-Ass Beamington was in custody. He could see JD on the porch, broom in hand, jacket off, badge on, and Colts visible, sweeping the ashes of the burnt mattress into the dirt. As he did so, he reassured the townfolk that there was nothing to worry about, yes, Bad-Ass had surrendered peacefully, no, they couldn't see the prisoner, yes, Judge Travis had been wired... behind him, Buck lounged against the wall, rifle hanging lazily against one leg, white bandage on his neck. He cast a glance back through the jailhouse window every so often, then turned to regard the crowd, and JD's handling of such, with bemused detachment.
As Chris passed the telegraph office, he looked up to see Mary Travis coming out, a yellow slip of paper in her hand. She caught his eye, and smiled a bit.
"This just came from my father," She explained, showing him the telegram, "He'll be here to try Mr. Porter and the other boy day after tomorrow."
Chris blinked at the paper, handed it back. "Good."
"Yes, it is," Mary said absently, folding the telegram and tucking it away. She cast an eye over the street. "I suppose this town is once again in your debt, Mr. Larabee. This whole affair could have turned much uglier than it did."
Chris squinted into the distance. "Bad enough. Citizen killed, saloon shot up. It could have been a whole lot less ugly for me."
Mary's expression turned grim. "Yes, well...once this territory is rid of lawless types like what we have in the jail right now, I'm looking forward to not having to worry about such violence coming to this town again."
Chris frowned at her. "No disrespect, ma'am, but you ain't never gonna get rid of lawless types. For every Jimmy that gets caught, there are ten others that get away. Then come back to bite you worse."
Mary's eyebrows went up. "That's a very pessimistic view, Mr. Larabee. If you don't think we can ever make this town safe again, then tell me why do you and your friends even bother to stay?"
Chris' eyes went to the distant, light blue horizon, and then focused closer, to the boardinghouse where Ezra was recovering, to the saloon where he could see Vin helping the saloon owner replace the broken window, to the church where he had seen Josiah comforting the family of the dead citizen, and finally back to the little knot in front of the jailhouse, and JD brushing black ashes into the anonymity of the street.
Chris thought, shrugged, finally looked at Mary sincerely and murmured, "Cause we got a bone to pick with the ten that get away. Good day, ma'am."
With that, he gave Mary a polite tug of his black hat, and walked down the street.
A few minutes later found JD putting aside his broom and going into the jail, telegram in hand, where Jonathon and Jimmy were waiting in thier respective cells.
JD gave Jonathon a little smile, which the older man returned as he sat comfortably on his cot, his black coat wrapped around him. Jimmy didn't even look up, but remained huddled miserably in one corner, among the ashes where his cot used to be, head down, arms crossed, still and silent.
JD approached Jonathon's cell and held up the telegram. "Judge'll be here day after tomorrow. He'll try you both then."
Jonathon nodded in understanding. "That'll be fine." He said evenly. Jimmy didn't react.
JD regarded his friend sadly. "I wish I could set you free, Mr. Porter," He said regretfully, "You been a mighty big help."
"Oh, now don't you go saying that, son," Jonathon replied, rising and moving to stand opposite JD, only the bars between them. "You're doing the right thing. I've done wrong, and I got to pay for it."
"I know - " JD looked away, down at the floor, anywhere but into that kind old man's blue eyes, "I just wish there was somethin' I could do for you besides pack you off to Yuma."
"You want to do something for me?" Jonathon asked in mock surprise. "Then I'll tell you what you can do."
JD leaned closer.
"Keep goin' after men like me. Just like you been doin'. And never let up."
JD leaned back, regarded Jonathon curiously.
Jonathon gave the youth a hopeful smile. "That'll suit me just fine."
JD couldn't help smiling back. "Then I'll do it."
Jimmy shifted then, lifted his blotchy face to glare at both of them.
"You're crazy." Jimmy spat hoarsely, his eyes darting between the two men. "You're both crazy."
JD looked at Jonathon, who was regarding Jimmy with sympathetic eyes, and when he looked back at Jimmy noticed that the youth was staring with open animosity at his former hero. But Jimmy said nothing else.
Even from the back of the jail, the sounds of the crowd outside were audible, and JD turned his head to see that the crowd was growing; Buck's hat and his gun were all he could see through the window. He heaved a sigh and turned back to Jonathon's cell.
"Guess I'd better go help Buck." He said wearily, and put the telegram in his pocket.
He looked at Jonathon again, dropped his gaze to the floor awkwardly, finally gave the older man a crooked smile and headed back out the door.
Jonathon returned to his bunk, wrapping the cloak around him, didn't notice Jimmy's malevolent stare until he happened to glance in that direction.
With a scowl the youth moaned, "Why didn't you kill him, you stupid old fool?"
Jonathon just looked at him.
Jimmy regarded him with betrayed eyes, his voice rising. "I was gonna cut you loose. We coulda been free, both of us. You could have killed him. What's one more dead man to you?" He blinked against sudden tears of disappointment, and ducked his head, his filthy blond hair hanging over his eyes.
Jonathon Porter, also known as Bad-Ass Beamington, looked at the ragged boy and with tears in his own eyes, then said softly, "About a hundred too many, son. About a hundred too many."
Chris walked toward the saloon, slowed down, stopped, found a barrel nearby to sit on as he felt his mood blackening. Reluctantly his eyes darted from the wrecked saloon to the sad little pile of ashes in front of the jail, then down the street where the undertaker was busily laying out a number of new pine coffins, then back to the church. So many dead, and what difference had it made, really? There were still remnants of Jimmy's gang out there, and they'd reform, find another killer to follow, maybe be back. And there was always other threats, other dangers, it never stopped, rarely even slowed down. Chris scowled to himself, stared at his boots, thought about getting drunk. Then something caught his eye, and he looked up.
JD had gone into the jail, and was now back out, chatting with the townspeople. Buck was herding away a group of three little boys who were trying to peek into the jailhouse window. He had succeeded in shooing them all off the porch, and was going back to leaning against the wall when one of the boys, the smallest of the three, turned back to the porch and hopped back on. As Buck watched him, the little boy came up behind JD and shyly tugged on the back of his vest. JD turned, obviously surprised, and seeing the boy leaned down to him. The boy grinned up at him and reaching up with one tiny hand softly touched the sheriff's badge on JD's vest. JD blinked at the boy, apparently a bit thrown, but then the boy looked at him with tiny eyes bursting with respect and wonder, and JD smiled back at him with youthful pride.
Chris caught Buck's eye, knew he had seen it too, and they exhanged little smiles of satisfaction. Not so bad, after all. Then Chris got up off the barrel, and headed down the street.