Disclaimer: The boys are the property of MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy Entertainment. I do not own them or make money from them but if I did own them I promise I would share.
Characters: Vin and Chris.
Notes/Warnings: Scenes of torture (Guess who). Refers to some events in The Bad, The Good and The Ugly but this is not a sequel so you have no need to torture yourself by reading that too!
Feedback: Thank you Blackraptor. You're all wonderful, kind and encouraging. This is my first real attempt at writing 'villains' so please feel welcome to let me know what you think.
Why couldn't he keep his smart mouth closed? When he could see they were heavily outnumbered? Aw Hell. They were hitting him again. He thought they had finally got tired of using him as a punching bag. There surely wasn't anywhere that they hadn't already bruised. This is where the Tanner temper had got him. His mama had warned him losing his temper would always mean big trouble. As a child he had pondered on what 'big trouble' might mean at length. Sorely tempted to provoke Mama just once to find out. It had never crossed his mind as a five year old that this was what big trouble felt like.
He didn't mind the actual beating so much. Hell, he'd been beaten by experts, something these guys definitely weren't. Though they were surely getting in enough practice on him. No, it was the fact that Chris Larabee seemed to be suffering every blow along with him. Or maybe that tight look of agony on the gunfighter's face was just trapped wind. If those fellers had any sense they'd take every gun in a five mile, no, make that a ten mile radius and throw them down a mine shaft because if the gunfighter got the chance those men would be eating hot lead for breakfast, dinner and supper.
Still they'd taken his medicine bag from him and that couldn't go unremarked on. Chanu had placed that bag around his neck as a brother and that had meant a great deal to Tanner. He'd demanded it back and they'd called him half-breed and worse. So Tanner had responded angrily with a few choice phrases of his own from his buffalo hunting days turning the air blue and then the beating had started.
Eventually they grew bored of the sport and wandered away to the other side of the camp. Tanner lay where he had fallen and counted how many stars he could see spinning past his eyes.
He definitely wasn't in the mood for one of the gunfighter's lectures. If the man in black even started to say 'I told you so' Tanner decided he would puke on the gunfighter's boots for spite.
"Thought I's winnin' there, Cowboy. Got the cowards ta back off at least," he drawled.
"I noticed you throwing your face at their fists, Tanner."
Good, he'd escaped the lecture for now. No doubt he'd be in for it later but he could cross that bridge when it jumped up and bit him on the butt. "What do ya think they want us fer? They ain't bounty hunters, Chris."
"Damned if I know. They don't seem to be all that bright. I think they are waiting on someone with a brain to arrive and tell them what to do next."
The two peace-keepers watched the men and the men watched the two peace-keepers and waited.
"I hate waitin' on folks," grumbled the tracker. "Seems ta me if yer got folks waitin' on yer ya should git a shuffle on. Ain't polite ta make folks wait."
"Are you saying it's rude?"
"Damn ignorant iffen ya ask me."
"You, of course, never keep any one waiting."
"Naw," drawled the tracker.
"So when you promise Nathan you'll let him check you over in his clinic, going to the saloon first isn't rude?"
"Naw, that's anesthetic, Nathan surely likes ta poke an' prod a man 'til it's damned undignified."
The gunfighter, much to his own surprise, found himself wishing Ezra Standish was with them. He knew the gambler would never believe that the tracker had used the words anesthetic and undignified in the same sentence.
"We'll get it back, Vin."
"The medicine bag."
"Yeah. They shouldn't have taken it, Chris," agreed the tracker hauling himself upright.
"They're going to know that soon. I know it's your talisman."
"Naw, still got my lucky charm in m' pocket."
"A lucky bear claw. Still, it weren't real lucky fer the bear I kilt I guess," snickered the tracker.
"You shot a bear?"
"Naw. Don't be silly, Larabee. Shot a bear!" answered the tracker shooting the gunfighter a disgusted look. "That'd jus' rile it up some. Naw, I wrastled it."
"Wrestled a bear, Tanner? Now who is the stupid fool? Do you think I believe that for one minute?"
"Biggest grizzly ya ever saw, Larabee. Temper nearly worse than yers."
"I never thought I'd say this but you're a damn liar Tanner."
"Think what ya like, Larabee," drawled the tracker smugly.
"When you killed the bear?" groaned the exasperated gunslinger.
"It were rainin' an' Scout didn't have no toleration fer rain."
"This was before Peso?"
"Six horses afore Peso. Can I carry on? Anyways, I's ta find shelter as Scout weren't never happy out in the rain."
"Rain? A horse that didn't like rain?"
"Ya deaf? I's jus' said so ain't I?"
"Not much of a horse."
"Scout were a horse any man would be lucky ta have, Larabee. Faster than any other, went fer the longest time without water an' could see in the dark like an owl."
"You're full of it, Tanner."
"Anyways, I made fer some caves outta appreciation fer Scout's many fine qualities," glared Tanner. "Bear didn't like rain either I reckon, so he'd got up there first an' he knocked Scout down an' kilt him. I jus' got outta the saddle in time ta stop from bein' crushed."
Tanner paused for a while remembering the loss of a good horse.
"Grizzly got hold a me round the head. Shook me like a rat. Hell, it hurt. I's screamin' an' tryin' ta get free. Weren't no good I were a dead man walkin'. That hump on a grizzly's back? Solid muscle an' it weren't fer lettin' go. Then I sees we're at the edge of a ravine so I wriggled an' wrastled until we both went over the edge. When we hit the floor a the ravine bear was dead an' I was wishin' I were. Head was on fire with pain."
"What did you do?"
"Bled a lot. Splinted the broken leg. Wrapped the busted up hand an' cleaned up the bites on my head best I could. Waited 'til I could get myself outta there."
"How did you survive?"
"How did I survive what?" rasped Tanner puzzled by the question.
"Food, water, medicine?"
"Ate the bear. Drank the rain. Cried out a bit at the pain. What do ya think I did?"
"When was this?"
"Dunno think I were mebbe JD's age or so."
"Hell, Tanner. You were lucky."
"All them lucky bear claws!"
"You should have taken them all."
"Did. Had 'em on a rawhide thong round my neck fer a year or so 'til I had ta give 'em ta Little Otter."
"Little Otter?" Larabee didn't recall Tanner mentioning an Indian brave of that name before.
"She wouldn't leave me alone. Kept visitin' me at night an' tryin' ta join me under my blanket. So I gave her the bear claws an' while she was admirin' 'em I's lit out fer the hills!"
"Old was she? Over forty?" nodded Larabee with understanding.
"Naw, she was young."
"Ugly was she?"
"Naw, real purty face."
"Er, not lackin' anythin' if ya get my drift."
"So," asked Larabee in a slow deliberate voice, "why did you run away?"
"She was too smotherin'. Grabbin' at me, kissin' me, touching m' hair an' such."
"I see," said Larabee. Larabee didn't see at all. In fact he was digging his fingernails into his palm to prevent himself from laughing out loud. "Grabbing?"
"So you can fight off a grizzly bear but a pretty little Indian maiden has you on the run?"
"Yeah," admitted the tracker sheepishly.
Then the long awaited brain arrived.
+ + + + + + +
Vin Tanner felt his stomach roll over. He knew Eli Joe had a sister but he never thought she might blame Chris Larabee for the events in Four Corners. He didn't really think she would come after him after all this time.
The two men watched as orders were given and some of the men broke away from the group and headed towards Chris Larabee. Tanner painfully stood up and in front of Larabee.
"Alva Jane, what happened was no one's fault but Eli Joe's an' ya know it. If ya must take it out on a body then at least let Larabee go afore ya kill me."
"Shut up, Tanner! When I want to hear your whining I'll have my men beat on you some more. I know who killed my beloved Eli Joe and he's going to pay."
She knelt beside Larabee and eyed his lean black clad body up and down appreciatively. "I wasted my time trying to find out whether you had family or not Larabee. I was going to leave you alive and kill them then you would learn to know what pain is. Sadly some one else beat me to it. So I had to poke around some more and imagine my delight when I found out you have an affection for Tanner here!"
"Affection? Ya fried yer brain in the sun? We work together an' that's all, Alva Jane. I got more affection fer m' horse," Tanner tried to sound convincing but even he had to admit it sounded insincere. "Ya know I ain't the sort ta form liaisons."
"I know you're the sort to run out on a girl. Reckon I should have known your affections were aimed elsewhere."
"I never run out on ya Alva Jane. Ya sent me after Eli Joe knowin' I'd find Jess Kincaid dead an' take his body in fer the bounty thinkin' he was Eli Joe. Ya tried ta get me hanged like a mangy dawg, Alva Jane, ta save that no good brother a yers."
"I tested you, Tanner. You had a choice, you could have stayed with me and forgot all about taking Eli Joe in but instead you went after that bounty. Money meant more to you than I did!"
"Considerin' I paid over money ta spend time with ya, Alva Jane, I think yer gettin' that all mixed around. Ya never gave no sign I meant anymore ta ya than any other feller with cash money ta spend in Queenie's Bordello. Ya liked the big money I made from bounty hunting well enough then. I never remember ya lettin' me warm yer bed 'til ya actually had yer hands on my money, Alva Jane."
"I kissed you! You know what that means to a working girl! I wouldn't let Queenie's other girls entertain you either!"
"Ya expected me ta think it were true love an' all? Ya know I ain't never kissed ya back! Yer twistin' it all ta suit yerself, Alva Jane. Ya know I only visited Queenie's place ta see Queenie herself. She were the one that told me ya were Eli Joe's sister, ya never did."
"You made love to me!"
"I got drunk an' fell asleep most nights, Alva Jane, an' that's how ya liked it as I recall. Money fer nuthin'. I never made love ta ya by any stretch a the imagination. I's particular."
"We all know what you are, Tanner! Well, it makes no never mind now. Larabee here is going to be the one to suffer while this time you indulge me by dying!"
"Ya'll do what ya like, Alva Jane, but it won't bring Eli Joe back."
"Back? As if I'd want him back! He was meaner than a nest of snakes!"
"Then let us go."
"No. Eli Joe was family and what Larabee did can't go unavenged. You know that. Wait, Larabee doesn't know does he? You never told him who Eli Joe was did you?"
"I'm tellin' ya, Alva Jane, I'll kill ya m' self iffen ya say another word!" warned Tanner stepping forward as Alva Jane's men seized hold of him.
"Mr. Larabee, how remiss of Vin not to introduce you formally to his brother Eli Joe, before you murdered him," spat Alva Jane.
"Don't listen, Chris!" yelled Tanner.
"Brother?" gasped Larabee. "I killed your brother? Vin?"
"Naw! Naw Chris! Don't listen ta her! Please Chris, don't pay no mind, it's poison she's talkin'," begged Tanner.
"I don't believe it," claimed Chris shaking his head but he did believe. He knew now why he had thought of Eli Joe the first time he had laid eyes on Vin's father, Vince Tanner.
"No? I think you do," laughed Alva Jane.
"Then you and Vin...it would be incest...no..."
"Naw, Chris. I tol' ya don't listen ta her!" begged Vin.
"Ah. I see I shall have to explain. I wouldn't want you to think too badly of Vin!" giggled Alva Jane. "Vin and Eli Joe only shared a father, they had different mothers. Eli Joe and myself only shared a mother. I had a different pa, long dead. I'm no blood kin to Vin. But Vin was Eli Joe's little half-brother. Sweet isn't it?"
"Vin?" Larabee looked at Vin desperate for a denial.
"That murderin' dawg were no kin ta me!" yelled Vin. "I never laid eyes on him afore! Only knew him from a Wanted poster!"
"Tut-tut. Vin, you know that he was. Vincent Tanner fathered you both."
"Eli Joe got what he deserved. He were a murderin' piece of scum an' he deserved ta die. I were at least goin' ta take him alive," snarled Vin. "He woulda gotten a fair trial."
"Proud of the Tanner name now, Vin? Proud of yourself, Chris?" gloated Alva Jane.
"Larabee only did what he did ta save me from Eli Joe's knife. I told ya, Alva Jane, so let him go an' kill me."
"How sweet! Two handsome cowboys ready to die for each other! What ever can it mean?" laughed Alva Jane.
"Ya sure got a dirty mind, Alva Jane an' yer goin' ta be mighty sorry if ya keep callin' Larabee that."
"Handsome? Why? Does it make you jealous, Tanner?"
"Ya can call him handsome all day I ain't gonna argue with ya but I's warnin' ya not ta call him Cowboy."
"Why is that your pet name for him? Boys, strip Tanner and string him up let's have some fun. Make sure the cowboy here has a ringside seat."
Chris Larabee struggled in vain as they tied him up and dragged him towards the trees. He was made to watch as they stripped Tanner and strung him up by his wrists. Alva Jane's eyes were burning with a look of lust that sickened Larabee.
"Not an ounce of spare flesh on him is there, Larabee?" she hissed as she ran her hands down both sides of the tracker's lean body. "All solid muscle but of course you already know that."
Larabee saw Tanner close his eyes and the gunslinger swore he could feel the tracker's skin crawling as she put her hands on him. Tanner wasn't a man who liked to be touched even under the best of circumstances. It had often made it especially difficult for The Seven to help him or indeed for Nathan to treat his wounds. Until they had learned only to touch him one at a time and only when absolutely necessary. Gradually Tanner had begun to permit his brothers to be tactile but even now he much preferred it to be Chris.
Her index finger circled the already darkening bruises on his torso. "I know you're tough, Tanner. As hard as a coffin nail Eli Joe once told me so I think another beating isn't going to be enough. Uriah, join me why don't you?"
Larabee watched as a man, small in stature, detached himself from the watching group of men and stood alongside her.
"What do you think Uriah? I would like your expert opinion," she turned to smile at Larabee as she waited for the small man's reply.
"As you say, Alva Jane, not an ounce of fat. A weak point here in his spine. I think this is generally referred to as scoliosis by doctors but of no interest to me unless I was going to put him on a rack. Various old scars most of which were well stitched and resulted in little or no real marring or fibrous thickening of the skin---"
"Uriah! I want you to inflict pain on him not paint his portrait!"
"Exactly. Inflict pain not kill him with a clumsy misplaced blow!" huffed the small man. "I am paid the high price I command because I am an artist and---"
"Yes, yes, I'm sorry to have offended you but could we get on with it?"
"I do so hate to be rushed, does this mean I haven't got time for my specialty?"
"Uriah! Do you want the generous bonus I promised you or not?"
"Crucifixion is the epitome of my art," mumbled the small man petulantly. "I never get to do it anywhere near often enough."
Uriah searched through a black leather bag that Larabee couldn't help likening to Nathan's medical bag. The irony sickened him. Uriah paused to stroke a long square headed iron nail fondly before reluctantly setting it aside and delving deeper into the bag. Larabee tore his eyes away and stared up at Tanner. The tracker glanced back and winked a blue eye at Larabee.
Ya awright, Cowboy?
Me? Oh, I'm just dandy.
Hang on it won't last ferever, Cowboy.
Vin, it's going to seem like it.
There ya go always lookin' on the dark side.
Promise you won't fight it when it's time to pass out.
Pass out? Ya think I's a girl, Larabee? Ain't goin' ta have a fit a the vapors.
Vin! You don't have to be brave for me.
No. Scream out when it hurts and they'll be satisfied.
When I's finished amusin' 'em they're gonna kill ya, Larabee. Mebbe if I can make it last long enough the boys'll find ya in time.
"Can some one get me a fire started?" requested Uriah delightedly holding up a tool that Larabee recognized as a soldering iron.
"How long is that going to take?" demanded Alva Jane. "Larabee is going to have died of old age before you get started on Tanner. Here give me that knife you."
One of her hired men passed her Tanner's own knife.
"No!" cried out Larabee. "You'd better kill me now you bitch because if I ever get my hands on you..."
"Chuck, cut me a switch from that tree over there. Now, let's get started while Uriah warms up his toys."
Tanner winked at Larabee again. The tracker knew this all to well. He could stand this all day and all night. Sometimes in the past it had felt like he had and he wasn't seven years old any more. They took it in turns to beat him once Alva Jane had worn out her arm. Tanner grinned at her, pretty sure her arm ached almost as much as his own body did.
As Tanner watched Uriah approaching him with the hot iron he closed his eyes and let his mind drift back into the past. In a safe place in the corner of his mind he wondered what Chris would think of Queenie. If he ever got the trouble in Tascosa settled he would take Chris home to Texas to meet Queenie.
Queenie with the long curly, red hair the color of henna. The face of an angel and the broad shoulders of a man. Why no had ever guessed but him Tanner didn't know. Maybe they did know but just didn't care because Queenie ran the best bordello in Texas and that was saying something. Queenie didn't need anyone but herself to throw out unruly clients and the ones who couldn't pay. Queenie had proved time and time again to be a good friend to Vin Tanner. He'd surely be a good friend to Chris too.
Larabee hung his head as the hot iron seared Tanner's skin and the tracker's back arched in silent agony. A smell reminiscent of roasting pork reached his nostrils and Larabee heaved up the contents of his stomach until there was nothing left to throw up except burning acid. Alva Jane seized a hank of Larabee's fair hair and yanked his head back up.
"Wouldn't want you to miss anything," she laughed.
Tanner didn't make a sound. He wasn't going to give them the satisfaction. Uriah wanted to look into Tanner's eyes and see the pain there but all he saw were two darkened pools almost indigo with rage as he stepped back involuntarily, an icy worm of terror slithering into his heart. Behind those eyes he had glimpsed the real Vin Tanner ravenously waiting with lupine patience for his prey to show its first sign of weakness. Uriah was almost beside himself with excitement, this was the greatest challenge he had ever faced. By now even the strongest of men were usually weeping and calling on their various gods to save them.
Uriah grasped the cooling but still hot end of the iron and enjoyed the rapture of almost the same amount of pain as Tanner must have felt. They were going to share so much more! This was going to be Uriah's finest hour.
"Make him scream," ordered Alva Jane.
Chris tried to curse her but the acid had burnt his throat and he could only manage a familiar sounding hoarse rasp. "You bitch," he hissed. Hawking up the last bit of the bile he spat in her face.
Alva Jane wiped the gob of spit from her olive skin with the back of her hand and struck Larabee as hard as she could splitting his lip. She walked back over to Tanner while Uriah reheated the iron. She ran her hand along the burn on Tanner's thigh.
"Scream for me," she cooed, kissing his cheek.
"Piss off," he smiled.
She sank her teeth into his shoulder until it left a mark. Then she strolled back over to Larabee. "I'm going to have you dig his grave, Larabee, then perhaps I'll bury you in it together would you like that?" she asked standing over him licking her lips.
"You just made a really big mistake," grinned Chris. "You left your mark on him. When his friends find that mark on his body you're going to die slow."
"Ah, yes. Your five fellow peacekeepers. Well, there isn't anything about them that scares me," she said in a conversational tone as Uriah advanced towards Tanner again.
"Then you are a bigger fool than I took you for," smiled Larabee trying to look cooly confident. "They'll be on your trail already, Alva Jane and they will never give up until you're in the ground."
As the iron burned his skin yet again, Tanner's spirit wandered away from his body. Hearing the beat of the drum and the shake of the turtle shell rattle, following the cry of the eagle he rose upwards looking back down the silver cord observing himself still hanging there. He saw Larabee being forced to watch and that hurt him more than the hot iron. He really didn't think he was going to be able to last much longer without screaming.
He remembered he'd stepped out of his physical body when the bear had savaged him. He'd lain at the bottom of the ravine trying to decide whether to live through the pain or give up and die right there. He remembered thinking with some surprise how young he'd looked. Strange, he had always felt old. As if he had walked this Earth for a long time, maybe more than once. Perhaps he'd walk it again as the Medicine Man had told him. He wanted to make Chris believe they would get through this together and if they didn't well, he was sure somehow they would find each other in the darkness and meet again.
Uriah waited for the iron to heat up yet again and watched as a smile stole across the tracker's face. Alva Jane should have let him nail him up. She really should. These ropes were an insult to a man with reserves of strength Uriah was forced to admire and respect. Didn't she realize Uriah had waited his entire career for a man such as this? He had stared into the tracker's eyes, seen for himself the atavistic warrior that lived there. Uriah had fallen in love.
Yes indeed, he could spend forever with this man. Inventing new and exquisite tortures just for Tanner. Uriah could make him his masterpiece. Improve on his pretty face with a scalpel. Sculpt Tanner a smile that stretched from ear to ear, making him grin like a Spanish court jester. And now, instead of being allowed to adore him, Uriah was forced to treat him with so much crudity. Still, it was what she was paying him plenty for. He rifled through his bag again and brought out another instrument with its own specific purpose.
Tanner watched from above as his treasured medicine bag was emptied into the fire and Alva Jane's miserable gang laughed. At least they could no longer take the silver ring from around his neck that Brown Elk's Comanche mother had given him before she died. His adoptive Indian mother had told him to give it only to the woman he wanted to spend forever with and he'd already done that. One of the gang was wearing his buckskin. Tanner smiled to himself as the idiot reached into the pocket and found the bear claw with a loud yelp of pain. He watched Uriah reaching into his black bag and Tanner saw what he had in his hand.
Chris Larabee saw it too and he had to fight to stay conscious. They couldn't. It wasn't human. He desperately looked for some way to free himself. If he could try to get away and they shot him dead it would put an end to this. Stop them gelding Tanner at least. He struggled in vain as Uriah walked over to Tanner.
Larabee did the only thing he could. He opened his mouth and screamed.
+ + + + + + +
J.D. Dunne took off his hat and wiped his brow with his shirt sleeve. He looked around for tracks but he had lost the trail. He wasn't sure how he was going to tell the others. They would have to backtrack for God alone knew how far until he found it again. How he wished Vin Tanner was here. Vin wouldn't have lost the trail he was sure.
There again if Vin were here they wouldn't need to be tracking him would they? He wasn't making sense, he knew fatigue was setting in. Another thing Tanner never seemed to suffer from when he was on the trail. It never seemed to matter to him how long he spent leaning out of the saddle looking for sign only he could see.
JD turned in the saddle and saw that Buck Wilmington already knew what he was about to say.
"You're doing a good job, Kid."
To JD's surprise the anticipated words of encouragement came from Ezra Standish.
"You sure are," agreed Buck.
JD couldn't believe how lucky he was to ride with these men. Men that had taken him in as a greenhorn and each in their own way taught him so much about what it meant to be a real man. Hell, he'd be hornswoggled if he was going to let them all down now. He swung himself down from the horse and cast about for sign. Then he heard it. They all did. A scream. A man's scream.
"Chris!" cried Buck spurring Bowie forward.
"Wait!" called Ezra. "No use riding in there without a plan."
JD's eyes looked up in surprise, now Ezra was sounding more like Vin Tanner.
"Buck, you'll go in first and try to get up high."
Just like Vin Tanner would do thought JD. That was it, they all had to do what they always did.
"Now, all we need is someone to walk right in there and put the fear of The Devil in them like Larabee does," smiled Buck.
"Will the fear of God do?" smiled Josiah Sanchez volunteering.
"Let's ride!" grinned JD.
"Nice guns," commented Josiah walking right into the middle of their camp not sparing a look in Chris Larabee's direction. "Like to set them on the ground nice and easy?"
"Go to Hell!" yelled Alva Jane.
"Been there, didn't like it much," yawned Josiah as Buck opened fire and dust flew up into Alva Jane's face. "It's all you need to know is there's a man up there with a rifle pointed at your head. Order your men to drop their guns."
"Drop your guns," ordered a defeated Alva Jane.
Nathan was already cutting Vin down as Ezra untied Larabee who was staring fixedly at Tanner.
"Cover them, JD," barked Larabee striding over to Tanner's side as Buck joined JD. "Buck, hog-tie that bitch."
"Hog-tie a woman?" Buck asked in surprise.
"Ezra, hog-tie the bitch," ordered Larabee kneeling beside Tanner.
"Certainly, Mr. Larabee," answered Ezra reaching for a rope from a convenient saddle. "Mr. Wilmington? How exactly does one hog-tie a person?"
"Who did this?"
Chris looked up in surprise. Nathan's hands were shaking. It took Chris a full minute to realize it was with rage. It was a good question. He looked around the little camp for the small man but Uriah and his bag of dirty tricks had gone. Larabee swore angrily but at least the boys wouldn't have to know what he had intended for Tanner and what was more neither did Tanner.
"He's gone. She's to blame," he said turning to fix his basilisk glare on Alva Jane.
"We have to get him back to town. I'd like to it now before he regains consciousness because whereever I touch him it is going to hurt him. They beat him more than once?" he asked examining the bruises on the tracker's torso, the raised red welts across his back and he didn't like the ceraceous look to his skin.
Larabee realized it was more of a diagnosis than a question.
"We only heard one scream," said Nathan gently.
Larabee nodded mutely.
+ + + + + + +
He hated this room. He hated the dust Nathan struggled to keep at bay. He hated the creaking bed. He hated the hard wooden chair he would sit in all night. He hated the pungent medical smell of it and most of all Chris Larabee hated to see Vin Tanner in Nathan's one room clinic.
The tracker's back was striped with yellow swellings and deep purple black bruises from his shoulders to the backs of his thighs. Bruising made by fists covered his upper body. The tracker was now in excruciating pain without the adrenalin coursing through his body. He writhed and twisted in agony but at least his skin had lost the look of new wax it had earlier. Nathan put a cup to his lips.
"Laudanum?" asked Chris as Vin pulled away forcing Nathan to tug the tracker's chin back towards the cup.
"Morphine and whiskey."
"Morphine? He doesn't want it. He doesn't really want the laudanum you usually give him. You know how he feels about being drugged, Nathan."
"I know that only too well but if we get Doc Dempsey over from Libertyville he'll just stick a needle full of morphine in Vin every time he blinks. I'll give him the smallest doses I can but if he is to heal I need him to stop throwing himself all around the bed. It's morphine or putting him in makeshift restraints and listening to him scream night and day. I'm not brave enough to stand that even if you are, Chris," it was as near to a snarl as the healer had ever come to. "Damn it!" he added as the tracker twisted away again.
"Let me," insisted Chris. "At least if he comes gunning for whichever of us he decides is responsible for drugging him I've got a chance of outdrawing him."
"Are you sure of that, Chris?"
"Hell no," he said taking the cup, putting it gently to Vin's lips and getting him to swallow a little as at his touch the tension in the tracker's body lessened.
Vin. I killed your half-brother can you forgive me?
Eli Joe truly deserved ta die ain't nuthin' ta fergive, Cowboy.
"Sorry that you lost your talisman," he whispered.
"Ain't lost it I's always got it with me all the time," murmured Tanner blindly reaching for Larabee's forearm. "Ya know Alva Jane knew what Eli Joe had planned . She were a part of it," croaked Tanner.
"If Judge Travis offers her a deal might she testify in Tascosa?"
"I surely hope so, Cowboy."
"Chris, make sure he drinks it all and then keep him quiet, he must sleep," ordered Nathan before leaving briefly to beg more linen rags for dressings across at The Ritz Hotel.
Chris leaned back in the hard wooden chair and rested his eyes on the tracker disturbed only by the stench emanating from another tin mug Nathan was preparing. He hoped Nathan was intending to put it on Tanner's wounds not make him drink it or they would have to consider nailing the tracker to the bed first.
"That rich rancher woman, the Widow Stacey, is in The Ritz Hotel with Libertyville's Deputy Sheriff Jake McKenna. She asked after you, Vin. I told her no visitors yet," remembered Nathan. "The morphine will work soon an' he won't know we're here. I got to take this salve back to the livery for Jake's horse I'll only be ten minutes, can you watch him, Chris?"
"Yeah," agreed Chris as if Nathan needed to ask.
"Cowboy?" he rasped as Nathan had hardly closed the door behind him.
No. You heard what Nathan said. Get some sleep.
Hell, I ain't even shot.
It can be arranged, Tanner.
Kin rest up in m' wagon.
This bed is too soft.
You're soft in the head if you think you're getting outta here.
Cain't breathe in this place.
I'll open a window.
Some good luck talisman ya turned out ta be.
"Vin...I..." started Chris his face stricken again at the thought he had killed the only brother Vin had.
"Cowboy," interrupted Tanner trying to focus his heavily drugged eyes as the expression on Larabee's face change to one of unadulterated guilt. "Ya saved me. Ya might not be glad ya did but my real brothers, Nathan an' them four sittin' in the saloon, are."
On his return Nathan showed how glad he was that Vin was safe by temporarily evicting Chris Larabee from the clinic while he tended to Vin's dressings again. Tanner's burns were not heavily bandaged but thickly covered in wheaten flour. Nathan needed to check each burn regularly if Vin was to heal with the minimum of scarring. Later he would apply carbolic emulsion with a feather. As long as he kept the other wounds clean and free from infection physically Tanner should be alright. As to mentally? Nathan just didn't know but he was sure Chris Larabee's steady presence would aid the tracker's recovery.
+ + + + + + +
Elvira Stacey sashayed into the saloon, barely acknowledging the turned heads and admiring glances. She had spent a tiresome evening in Four Corner's one restaurant waiting for Stuart James to make a serious offer for The Stacey Ranch instead of insulting her over dessert with a risible offer. Dining with such a snake in the grass left a nasty taste in her mouth but she wanted to sell the ranch and move to Texas with her intended husband, the gunslinger Orlando Flynn. A man rapidly growing dangerously tired of acting as a Deputy Sheriff in nearby Libertyville.
Until marrying the late Septimus Stacey, she had spent all her working life in the theater. Appearing on stage in spangled tights and feathers in various places including Tombstone and Dodge City. Entertaining men who thought behaving like gentlemen meant turning their backs when standing up and urinating in the aisles. She had enjoyed the company of several notorious gunfighters who well deserved their bloody reputations. So experience told her that Chris Larabee was just itching for trouble by the way he was staring at the label on his whiskey bottle as if it held the alchemist's secret of turning lead into gold.
She leaned on the bar next to Chris, helping herself to a glass of whiskey from his bottle and ignoring the creature drooling on the hem of her dress. "Your friends all look anxious, they seem to think you have a problem drinking."
"Hell, they're wrong. I got no problem drinking it's stopping I have a problem with," he snapped, very much annoyed, while reaching for the half empty bottle and glass moving it out of her reach. He didn't normally share his whiskey with anyone except Vin. Who the hell did she think she was? Taking in her long trained, Denver bought dress and frilly parasol he suddenly realized she always reminded him of the fun-loving Ella Gaines he had known long before he had met Sarah. Except she was younger and ten times more beautiful than Ella making her ten times more dangerous in his book. After today's events he reminded himself once again not to trust women.
"Why, you are consumed with guilt and I expect you are eagerly looking forward to engaging in at least one drunken gunfight."
"What do you think I have to feel guilty about?" he asked belligerently, curling his top lip in to a sneer.
Concerned, Buck Wilmington got to his feet and started over but smiling she calmly waved him back down. Sure that this time she held more Aces than Ezra Standish. "Why, you did shoot Eli Joe deader than dead and rob poor darlin' Vin of his best chance of ever clearing his name."
"Honey coat it why don't you?" muttered Chris bitterly, draining and immediately refilling his whiskey glass.
"But Chris darlin', in spite of what half the town gossips are saying, you did not shoot Vin's half-brother," she purred, adjusting the hat pins in her large feathered hat in the barroom mirror so it rested perfectly on her thick blonde hair.
"You aren't making any sense even for a woman. Shouldn't you be off somewhere hubbling, bubbling, toiling and troubling with all the other witches?" snarled Larabee as Savage added his growl to the remark.
"Bah! I'd turn you into a slimy toad but some other woman obviously got there first. So I shall let that remark pass, for now. Why, we can't prove it yet but my darlin' Orlando is sure Vince Tanner isn't Vin's father."
"More whiskey. I definitely need more whiskey," he banged his glass down on the bar but Inez Recillos had apparently been struck blind and suddenly become stone deaf too.
"Ask Vin about his mother's dark eyes. Then consider where you think Vin got his blue eyes from? Not from that brown-eyed parlor snake Vincent Tanner, the man Vin thinks is his father, that's for sure."
"I can only tell you that Orlando suspects it's a man Vincent Tanner once rode with."
"Give me a name," glared Chris.
"There is no way to prove it," she glared back.
"Gimme a goddamn name!" demanded Chris. "Please."
So she did.
"I'd like to see proof but yes, I'm sure now. Vince Tanner can't be Vin's father and that means Eli Joe wasn't his half-brother."
"Orlando's candidate has two more sons. Orlando tells me that if you saw the three of them all side by side you'd have more than enough proof. It's the eyes. So far I've only seen photographic portraits and while they can be very deceiving I do think my dear sweetheart, Orlando, is right about this."
"Get them here in the flesh!" he ordered.
"I only have one living relative, my younger sister, I am looking forward to having cousins even those only related to me by marriage. So as they are family they are to be invited to my wedding. I want this all cleared up by the time I leave for my new life in Texas as Orlando's wife."
Chris relaxed, smiled, poured her a whiskey before pushing his own still half full glass back across the sticky bar top preparing to return to the clinic, suddenly more sober than most judges.
"May I escort you back to join your women friends, Cousin Elvira?" he asked with a faint smile. Making a supreme effort to act like a gentleman to a soon to be member of Vin's family.
"Bah! I don't have any women friends. Hereabouts they are all convinced I'm a man-stealer and avoid me, it's the same everywhere I put in an appearance."
"There are drunken men in here I think it would be best if a lady---"
"Lady? I eat drunken men alive and spit out the bones! I'm hardly likely to be inconvenienced by any wretch in here but I do thank you all the same," she laughed as Larabee left the saloon with a long haired four legged shadow glued to his heels.
Her hand shook slightly as much relieved she quickly swallowed some of the red-eye whiskey after he had left. Appearing in front of her Inez took the glass out of her hand and placed two clean glasses on the bar top. Filling each glass with a measure of better whiskey from Ezra's private supply Inez then lifted her own glass to her lips.
"I never drink with customers but I do drink with women friends," smiled Inez with a wink.
+ + + + + + +
Hellfire! He'd lost the use of his legs, he was paralyzed! Terrified he moaned out loud in the pitch darkness of the clinic.
"Vin?" Chris turned up the wick on the smokey oil lamp and moved the chair nearer his friend.
"Ya fell asleep across my legs, Cowboy?" Tanner wasn't sure whether to be relieved or annoyed he hadn't got his sawed-off to hand.
"No," lied Chris, "I was merely making sure Savage didn't climb up on the bed."
"M' dawg's here?"
"Under the bed next to the guzunder. He must be the only dog with no sense of smell."
In the gloom Chris didn't see the smile tug at the corner of Vin's mouth. "Thanks fer takin' him fer walkies."
"Walkies? The Hell I did."
"Hell, Chris, he cain't stay shut up in here all day. It ain't right fer beast nor man," said the tracker pointedly.
"I'll open the door for him but that's it. How do you feel, pard?"
"Better now Nathan has stopped threatening ta tickle me ta death with a big feather or were I hallucinating that part on it? How long ya bin back in here?" he rasped, as always more concerned for Chris than himself.
"Almost all evening. Why?"
"Not in the saloon crawlin' inta a bottle a rye whiskey?" asked Tanner, unable to keep the relief from his voice.
"Don't flatter yourself, Tanner. It takes more than seeing you with a few scratches to send me running to the bottle."
"A few scratches? I's half-dead, Cowboy!"
"Tanner, I am not now nor have I ever been, a cowboy!"
Bleary eyed at way past midnight, Nathan opened the door of the clinic to check on his patient once again. He held up the lamp for a few minutes, as Savage growled a soft warning from under the bed, before closing the door again quietly. The healer had no wish to disturb the tracker as he slept peacefully with his hand resting on the blond head of the loudly snoring talisman sprawled across the bed.
+ + + + + + +
Chris walked slowly across the street, a four legged creature following unnoticed at his heels, as Alva Jane was escorted from the jail house.
"That's for calling me Cowboy," he said as he struck her across the face with the back of his hand. "I'll settle with you for Vin Tanner another day," he added as she was bundled into the prison wagon for the journey to Yuma prison.
Chris Larabee watched the prison wagon roll away. It was the first time he had struck a woman but to him Alva Jane wasn't fit to be thought of as a woman.
"I can't believe Alva Jane flatly refused to make a deal with Judge Travis," rumbled Josiah amused, in spite of the grim situation, to observe that Savage now closely followed the gunslinger on the few occasions Chris Larabee left the tracker's still incapacitated side. Appearing to watch over Larabee in Tanner's stead. Perhaps keen to reassure his man.
"She must really hate Vin to prefer prison," said JD.
"A woman scorned. Maybe a year or so in Yuma Prison will change her mind," commented Buck.
"Vin will make a full recovery," said Nathan comfortingly.
"Alva Jane can regale all her fellow inmates with the story of how I hog-tied my first female prisoner," smiled Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
It took Alva Jane precisely two weeks to escape from Yuma Prison and she was last seen in the company of a smiling, diminutive man carrying what may have been a medical bag.