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 ( eventually ).
Characters: Old West. Vin & Original Animal Character.
Feedback: Yes please.
It was entirely their own fault. They were to blame. Their own stupidity had caused all this upset and no one had any sympathy for them whatsoever. Not Nathan Jackson especially. Not Chris Larabee either. Vin Tanner felt a little bad but not that much, after all they had asked fer it!
The Larabee Gang had been in pursuit of a band of heavily armed bank robbers who had foolishly split into two separate groups of two and three. The Larabee Gang had split into a similar configuration of three and four.
Buck Wilmington, J.D. Dunne and Tanner had pursued their two malcontents until once again the duo had split apart. Tanner galloped after one and Buck and JD took the other man down after another quarter of a mile. Tanner cornered his man in the disused workings of an old mine.
As he followed closely behind his quarry, showing all the intelligence of a rusted shovel, threw a stick of dynamite back down the tunnel into Tanner's path. Succeeding in burying himself in ton of rubble and temporarily deafening Tanner.
Some men were so dumb they needed to be reminded when to breathe in and out, thought Tanner, so why was he always the one to end up chasing them down? He wasn't going to hang around to dig the body out so he remounted Peso and rode back to find the rest of the seven.
Nathan Jackson hauled Tanner back into his clinic and patched him up as was his usual practice every few weeks. Even as Tanner shouted he was 'Jus' fine' not knowing he had raised his voice above it's usual dry rasp, Nathan was trying to tell him the deafness should wear off and until then he should rest.
Tanner promised he would rest if he was allowed to do so in the saloon. Nathan, himself too tired to wrangle the tracker into a bed in the clinic and stand guard over him to stop him climbing out of a window, reluctantly agreed.
So as Nathan watched him like a hawk watches its prey Tanner enjoyed a mug of beer in the saloon. Even though he couldn't actually hear anything that was said to him Tanner managed to follow the idle conversation at Chris Larabee's table.
When Inez finally insisted they should quit the saloon for the night and stop bragging about the day's events, Chris Larabee tried to force Tanner, with Nathan's backing, to sleep at old Mother York's house.
"We can't watch your back if you are hellbent on catnapping on that bug infested mattress in that rickety wagon," insisted Larabee.
"Larabee, that's my home yer insultin' ya don't hear me callin' that shack a yers," shouted Tanner.
"Cabin, it's a cabin," mouthed Larabee.
"In yer dreams, Larabee. I'm jus' fine it's all of ya that mumble."
"That's an order. You will sleep inside tonight," said Chris firmly.
"Damn, Cowboy, I ain't no damn kid. Yer cranky when yer tired. Fine, got ta check on Peso first then," replied Tanner.
Thinking Tanner had agreed rather more readily that expected Larabee nodded to Buck and JD then towards the retreating tracker's back.
"Follow him and make sure he makes it to Mother York's house." Was the order he gave.
What happened next was entirely Buck Wilmington's stupid notion. JD was perhaps even more stupid because he never questioned the wisdom of the older man's idea.
For some unfathomable reason Buck thought it would be funny to grab Tanner while he was in the darkened livery stable and tickle him. I know, it defies all logic and common sense doesn't it?
As he swaggered across the street and entered the livery Tanner didn't hear the two men shadowing him. The very next thing he knew was that someone had grabbed hold of him from behind in the darkness. Vin Tanner, ex-buffalo hunter, ex-bounty hunter, Wanted man with a price on his head, reacted in a perfectly understandable fashion, he put up a helluva fight.
And Vin Tanner fought dirty. He didn't know how to fight any other way. So as Buck Wilmington lay curled up in the fetal position nursing his pride and joy, wondering if he would now be able to start the family he had always wanted, Tanner beat the living tar out of JD until the youngster finally had the good sense to lay down and play dead.
Hearing the commotion Josiah Sanchez ran headlong into Tanner's fist and was propelled across the stable to land in a heap against the door making it difficult for Chris and Ezra Standish to force open the door and hold up a lantern to survey the scene of carnage.
Blinking in the lamplight Tanner looked at the fallen men in utter bewilderment.
"Confound it, y'all got a death wish?" exclaimed Nathan as he tried to decide who was the most badly injured.
Tanner helped Josiah to his feet and realizing that Josiah at least had only intended to help him protect himself from his attackers apologized profusely and very, very loudly. Able to see the funny side in spite of the agonizing pain in his jaw, Josiah gave Tanner his forgiveness immediately.
It took both Ezra and Chris to get Buck up on his feet and walk him gingerly across to the clinic. JD had to be carried by Nathan and a still laughing until it hurt Josiah. Vin Tanner inspected his skinned knuckles and spat a nasty taste out of his mouth.
If he had known it was Buck he was fighting he wouldn't have bitten him. Buck always swamped himself in that cheap cologne that he thought enhanced his animal magnetism but did at least keep the flies away.
Chris Larabee looked at four members of the gang that bore his name and despaired, "What were you trying to prove, Buck?"
"That Tanner was ticklish," he offered feebly.
"That was your most stupid idea yet but did you have to drag JD into the line of fire too? You can't tell me you thought for one second Vin would roll over like a puppy dog?"
"Guess I just didn't think that far ahead. I'm sorry, Vin."
"Eh? Ya what? Ya want ta go another round?" smirked Tanner cupping a hand to his ear.
+ + + + + + +
They had been confined to town for seventeen days guarding the prisoners for Judge Travis. There had been a very good chance the criminal gang's friends would mount a rescue attempt. Thankfully, this threat did not materialize and the prisoners were escorted out safely out of town to serve their long sentences.
However, this left seven restless men who almost felt that they had served a jail sentence too. Ezra had moaned unceasingly about how much money he had missed out on winning at the poker table. Buck was terrified his animal magnetism had dried up and JD was convinced Casey had taken a shine to the Cranston boy.
Desperate to restore peace Chris Larabee suggested to Vin Tanner it would be a good idea to give the boys a change of scenery. Tanner suggested spending a few days on a trip to the saloon in nearby Red Fork. Tanner had also heard there was some kind of attraction visiting the town.
Chris never could fathom out how Vin Tanner knew so much about what went on in other towns seeing as he often rode out of town at dawn. Spending his time up in the the hills, rarely returning before noon.
Still it was a good idea. All the men were keen to get out of the town even for a short while. Even JD who was at a loss on how to cope with the Casey situation. In spite of Buck's copious advice that had the boy more confused than ever.
Red Fork was packed to the seams when they arrived. Tanner's information had indeed been correct, the attraction was a small circus with wild animals, jugglers, acrobats and fire eaters. The animals were old and rather tired looking but exotic to the folks of Red Fork.
The Larabee Gang strolled round together on their way to the saloon after booking the last three hotel rooms. The row of animal cages were lined up in front of the traveler's tents. Vin Tanner hesitated, hooked his thumbs in his gun belt, leaned to one side and sniffed the air. He looked back at the animal cages and his brow drew down puzzled as he sniffed the air again.
"Yes, seventeen days in the jail house with that reeking buckskin was cruel and unusual punishment enough. I think Judge Orin Travis should have considered expunging the miscreant's criminal records there and then," remarked Ezra.
"The wild animals are complaining about the smell, Vin, you'd better move along!" giggled JD.
"Seen a close relative, Tanner?" laughed Buck pleased with his own quick wit.
"No," said Vin with his white toothed smile, "but this old monkey has more animal magnetism than ya have," as he walked away to join his friends taking one more quick glance behind him.
The men followed Chris Larabee into the saloon as Tanner playfully punched Ezra on the arm. A table opened up for the men as some of the wiser customers decided not to risk jogging the grim looking gunfighter's drinking arm.
JD was starting to get excited at the prospect of seeing the show, "Buck, are you going to try your animal magnetism on one of those lady acrobats?"
"I have seen Indian fire walkers but I have not seen a fire eater have you, Brother Vin?" asked Josiah Sanchez.
"No, reckon not," Vin juggled his harmonica, Buck's pocket watch and Larabee's empty shot-glass up in the air until the man in black snatched the glass back in mid-air with an icy glare at the tracker.
"I have long harbored the suspicion that our Mr. Tanner belonged in the circus," mused Ezra.
"I wonder if any of those lady acrobats are double jointed?" mused Nathan.
"I'll let you know," smirked Buck.
"We need to decide who is going to bunk on the floor tonight. As we only got the three rooms," pointed out Josiah.
"Reckon I'll bunk on the floor iffen I get ta choose which room I share," Tanner said a shade too quickly for Larabee's liking.
The tracker clearly had something on his mind. Larabee could read his friend well by now and he knew with certainty the tracker was avoiding his scrutiny with the parlor tricks and ready smiles.
When the men joined the exodus out of the saloon to the circus tent, Larabee watched Tanner's usual swagger replaced with a purposeful stride. Once inside, a tense Tanner watched intently and seemed to be waiting for something. Whatever it was, by the end of the entire performance Tanner did not seem satisfied.
After drinking until the barkeep fell asleep across the bar and couldn't be roused to serve them anymore whiskey, The Seven staggered to the hotel. Tanner peered into all three rooms before settling on sharing with Josiah and Nathan. Larabee inspected the room Tanner had chosen with his bleary eyes. It was no different to the other two rooms in any way he could see but Tanner seemed satisfied with his personal choice.
The Seven overslept even by Ezra's standards and all awoke with hangovers except presumably Tanner, who was missing.
"Oh, maybe the pain got too bad and he decided to end it all," said Buck holding his head in his hands and trying not to breathe as the rise and fall of his chest made his head move and that hurt.
"The room is spinning," said JD veering off to the left-hand side of the room and back, grabbing the end of the bed to keep himself upright.
The six men finally staggered into the the hotel dining room. There was still no sign of Tanner. They picked at the food they had ordered and poured eye popping amounts of black coffee down themselves. Ezra poured a liberal hair of the dog that had savaged him into his coffee. Larabee's green eyes were slightly less bloodshot than the others. But his mouth tasted like a rat had made a nest in it.
When Tanner appeared he snickered at his suffering companions. Sitting down to join them he rattled his knife and fork against the crockery and made other nerve jangling noises as he tucked into a huge greasy fry up. Asking each man in a loud voice exactly just how nauseous they felt.
Eventually Larabee growled, "I'm gonna shoot you, Tanner, if you make one more sound."
Tanner opened his mouth and Larabee drew his gun half way out of his holster threateningly. Having had exhausted his friend's goodwill, Tanner pulled a small green ribbed glass bottle out of the top pocket of his shirt. Chuckling, he poured a few drops into each man's coffee. Then he leaned back on his chair's two back legs and watched to see who would be the first to try it.
JD would have swallowed the Red Sea if it would have stopped the room from spinning and the floor rising up to meet him every time he moved. He groped for the coffee mug and tipped the contents down his throat.
The other men watched with interest, if JD didn't expire within the next few minutes Buck decided he'd risk it.
JD looked stunned as the brew reached his stomach and moved his head slowly from side to side. "The room's still!"
The other five men grabbed for their mugs and poured the stuff down. Tanner smiled lazily.
"What is that?" asked an amazed Nathan.
"An Indian cure for squaws with morning sickness but don't tell Larabee!" whispered Tanner.
"Mr. Tanner, I think we should talk business. We could get a patent on that," proposed Ezra.
Tanner was too distracted by a conversation the hotel manager was having with some of the circus people. Shaking his head the manager approached their table.
"One of the animals has somehow got loose from the circus last night and these people would like to check your rooms. You don't have to let them if you don't want to."
"Sure they can check, none of us wants ta wake up with a dangerous critter in the room," drawled Tanner, "Excepting maybe Larabee, he's been known ta bed the odd wildcat. Ya want me ta show 'em our rooms? My friends here are still a little delicate yet."
"Go, with him Ezra," ordered Larabee sure Tanner had a hand in this somehow.
The circus people looked in the first two rooms briefly. On entering the third room, the one Vin had shared with Josiah and Nathan they searched more thoroughly looking under the bed and then one of them whipped open the door of the built in clothes closet a pungent smell caused Ezra to wrinkle his nose in distaste. There hanging on a wooden hanger was Tanner's buckskin.
"I do apologize for the ungodly reek it always smells like the recently deceased animal is still wearing it," said Ezra thinking it odd that the tracker was not actually wearing the offending garment. Ezra could count on one hand how many times he had seen Tanner in just his shirt sleeves.
The Tracker was leaning back against the washstand, his thumbs tucked in his gun belt, one booted foot crossed over the other. He could always be guaranteed to make a room look untidy just by being in it, thought Ezra.
The Circus people left empty handed and full of apologies for the intrusion.
"Do I want to know?" asked Larabee staring challengingly at Tanner as the tracker re-entered the dining room.
"Best not, ya'll only dwell on it, Cowboy," winked Tanner as he disappeared again.
They stayed another day and night until the worsening smell from Tanner's buckskin still hanging in the closet finally made Josiah and Nathan dearly want to head back to Four Corners.
Riding out of Red Fork the men saw the circus leaving in the opposite direction. Once again Tanner was missing from The Larabee Gang. Turning in Pony's saddle Larabee looked back just as Tanner rode into view. He was jogging along astride Peso minus his buckskin jacket which appeared to be wrapped around something cradled in Tanner's arms. Larabee held up his hand and all the men stopped and waited for Tanner to catch them up.
Tanner knew the game was up and he had better come clean or face being glared into submission.
"Y'all, this is Ursula," Tanner tugged the buckskin away from the little furry face, the other men gasped, "She's a bear cub," he added stating the patently obvious.
"We can damn well see she, it's, a bear! What's it doing on the trail with us?" Larabee demanded.
"I liberated her from the circus," admitted Tanner.
"You stole it!" Larabee was not even bothering to hide his anger.
"Liberated," corrected Tanner.
"Giving it an Ezra type big word doesn't stop it from being theft," insisted Larabee furiously.
"Aw Hell, Chris, they were gonna pull out her claws an' most of her teeth an' put a ring through her nose an' have her learn ta dance. Do ya know how they learn a bear ta dance?"
"Has that been in the closet of our hotel room?" asked Nathan recognizing the now familiar acrid smell, "That's why you bedded down in our room 'cause it had a closet to hide her in?"
"She were real good an' quiet weren't she? I could only get her bread an' milk ta eat mostly but she likes eggs."
"What are you going to do with her, Vin?" asked JD
"Find a good place ta let her go. She's a wild thing an' needs ta be free."
"She's not the only one," muttered Larabee.
"She won't be no trouble. I kin teach her ta forage fer food an' find shelter," Tanner turned his big blue eyes towards Chris pleadingly.
He did not need the other man's permission but he did desperately want his friend to understand. Locking Ursula in a cage was no different to locking up an innocent man to Vin Tanner's way of thinking.
Larabee looked at his friend for the longest time and then nodded his head curtly just once.
"You can't keep her in Four Corners," pointed out Josiah.
"No, I'll take her up into the hills an' stay out there until she can be left ta fend for herself fer a couple a days. Then I'll just check up on her until she don't need me no more. I knows a good place."
The men urged their horses towards Four Corners, Tanner followed.
"Vin's got a little bear behind," giggled JD "Hey, Buck, I said Vin's got a bear behind! It's a joke, a play on words, funny isn't it? You think that sort of thing's funny don't you, Ezra?"
"That sort of thing, yes," replied Ezra dryly.
"She's a she bear, you'd better keep your animal magnetism away from her, Buck!"
On reaching Four Corners Tanner rode straight through the town and up into the hills. It was several days before he returned but he seemed pleased with himself. Little Billy Travis was beside himself with excitement.
"Mr. Tanner! Mr. Tanner, is it true you've got a bear for a pet?" he greeted Tanner eagerly.
"No, sorry, Billy. It ain't a pet. It were a wild animal an' I let it go."
"I wanted to see it," said Billy greatly disappointed.
"Mebbe, if yer Mama says it's awright with her, I can take ya up there an' let ya look at her through my spyglass but that's as near as I want anyone ta get. Ya won't be able ta tell where ya saw her ta anyone else, it has ta be a secret, little pard."
"I'll go and ask Mama now!"
Tanner joined the other men in the saloon.
"Ah, the ringmaster has returned!" cried Ezra.
"Thought that was how ya saw yerself Ezra with the fancy red coat an' all," drawled Tanner.
"What's next a spot of lion taming?" inquired the gambler.
"Naw, tried that afore. Might throw a wet fish at a performing seal though."
"Now, children play nice, or Uncle Josiah will bang some heads together," admonished Sanchez, "Especially you grizzly boy!"
"Vin's left his bear behind," JD was off giggling again.
"Tanner's got real animal magnetism," Nathan laughed his deep throated laugh.
"Stop it I can't 'bear' anymore!" laughed Buck.
"I 'bear-ly' spoke!" JD said.
"That's enough!" Larabee glared round at the others, "Don't 'panda' to him!"
Follow-up story: The Return of Ursula