"He rides today!"
"Look Cooper, the kid's just getting the horse healthy, give him awhile longer. It's not like you are using the horse for anything." Five minutes of arguing in front of the jail house had so far gotten Chris nowhere."
"The deal was he rides the horse and doesn't buck off, or pays me $300.00, or gives me back my horse. I get to pick the day and time, and I say right now!"
"He spent all summer taking care of a horse no one else has bothered with in six years, that has to count for something. Why the push all of a sudden?"
"It does mean something, it means I'll get more money for him when I sell him. Some Wild West show has all ready offered me a small fortune for him. So the kid rides him, pays me or gives him back. Now!"
Chris ran his hands through his hair in anger. This was so unfair...it was going to kill the kid to lose the big sorrel horse so soon. There was no way JD could last 60 seconds on that horse's back. He bucked harder than any horse Chris had ever seen, and now that he had been feed properly all summer, he was just that much more powerful. Chris doubted anyone would last half the time that Cooper had set.
"Buck, is JD back from his patrol yet?"
"I seen him ride in a while ago, I'll go check out if he's down at the corral."
"Tom's already been there, checking up on my merchandise." Cooper said to Buck. "There was no one around."
"That horse looks better, but he still is as crazy as ever, maybe even more so. I thought he was going to come right through the fence at me; guess we are going to have to teach him some manners allover again." Tom Cooper stared at Chris and Buck, the cold, hard look on his face saying he meant every word.
"Cooper...our opinion of you is about the only thing old Wendy and I agree on, but we agree real strong!"
+ + + + + + +
"Look kid, I'm sorry, but Cooper won't back down. He says ya ride today or the horse goes back." Buck gave the dispirited kid's neck a squeeze. "Chris really tried JD, just nothing he can do."
"I know Buck," JD ducked his head and wouldn't look Buck in the eye. "Can ya stall him just a few more minutes, I need a moment alone with Wind."
"You wouldn't be thinking about letting him go, or anything stupid like that would ya. As much as we all dislike the Cooper's, and we do dislike them, old Wendy is still their horse JD unless ya can ride em today."
+ + + + + + +
Buck made his way back up the dusty street to where Chris and the Cooper's were still standing. Saturdays were always busy in Four Corners, that's when most of the farmers and ranchers made their way to town to shop and visit with each other. The territory was growing steady and because of the seven men watching over Four Corners it was developing a reputation as a good place to start a business and raise a family.
"I told the kid we would give him a couple of minutes to get ready before we all converge on him. Just to show you how some people can be decent, we'll buy you both a beer." Buck pointed towards the saloon.
"Yeah that's real nice of you, but I think I'll just go down to that corral and make sure my horse stays where he is until your stupid kid gets his head busted open trying to ride em and we can return him to the ranch." Tom gave the six men a dismissive nod, and then turned away.
"The kid promised your horse wouldn't go anywhere." Buck's voice slowed Tom down.
"I'm going to make sure of that!" A large hand gripped his arm, stopping him.
"If that boy said the horse would still be there, then he will still be there. Now why don't you stop being rude and come have that drink you were just offered." Josiah half dragged, half directed Tom into the saloon.
Inside, the saloon was packed with thirsty noisy men, but Ezra was able to clear a table out for them all to sit at. Cooper felt the animosity of the six men sitting around him, but he was used to that. You couldn't be a lawyer and judge for as many years as he had without making a lot of people mad. Though he had to admit, in this instance he was letting his personal feelings rule over his professional ones. That stud horse meant nothing to him, it came with the place, and if his men hadn't like the challenge of trying to ride him, he would have had it shot the first day he moved in. Now the animal was just a pawn to use. Maybe the horse would kill the young gunfighter; Cooper would rather the seven just left town, but since Travis wasn't about to allow that, he would settle for them going down one at a time.
+ + + + + + +
"I've wasted all the time I'm going to waste... thanks for the drink, but I want this matter settled." Cooper rose out of his chair followed by his son, and the six other men.
Vin was the first to exit out the batwing doors.
"Holy horny toads!" Vin stopped so suddenly the others just about plowed over him.
"What the hell ya doing Vin?"
"Oh you guys aren't going to believe this, I don't believe this!"
"Would ya look at that?"
"The lord has decided on the side of good today."
"Well, son of a gun!"
Slowly making his way up the street, past other riders and wagons and around numerous pedestrians came a red horse. His head held high, nostrils flaring, and the whites of his eyes showing. He moved on coiled springs, his feet barely touching the ground as he floated towards them. The small rider perched on his back sat as light as a whisper his hand gently grasping the halter lead shank. He spoke softly to the quivering animal, and did not so much as twitch in fear the animal would become unglued.
A profound silence settled over the little town as it all at once came to a halt; all eye's mesmerized on the red horse. No one breathed as they watched the horse and rider silently fight to hang onto their precarious control. JD put every ounce of his body and mind into working with the big stud horse.
JD walked past his friends, then slowly shifted his weight turning the fretful horse around. With his eye's straight ahead JD walked past the saloon again and spoke in a hushed voice. "You didn't say he had to buck...and I think I've been riding him for longer than a minute. You can write out a bill of sale with Ezra, I'll be back for it later."
"You son of..." Buck and Josiah slammed Tom against the saloon wall, with a hand over his mouth; they held him there until JD disappeared over the little hill that hid the corral from their view.
Enraged Judge Cooper turned a venomous look on Chris. "This is not over Mr. Larabee, you are not the kind of law this territory needs if it's to grow and prosper into the next century. It may take me awhile, but I will see you gone."
"Judge you haven't been here long enough to know what needs this territory, or it's people has. Why don't you give yourself a chance to settle first, get a feel for the land, before you come to do war with me."
"I don't need to get the feel of the land, to know your days are numbered; you and your merry little band of followers as well. Tom get my buggy, I've had enough for one day."
"Oh Judge!" Ezra yelled after the departing buggy. "There's the small matter of a bill of sale."
"Take it up with a lawyer!"
+ + + + + + +
The saloon erupted in applause and hoots of pleasure as JD made his way to his friend´s table. A multitude of offers were made to buy his beer and even strangers thumped him on his back as he walked by.
Blushing he sat down between Buck and Vin, lowering his face to cover some of the red with his long bangs.
"Barkeep send a drink over here, for this is a real live bronc ridin' hero!" Buck grabbed JD by the back of his neck, and gave him a good shake. Yes sir... did ya see the look on old man Cooper's face when you came riding up the road on that big old stud horse. If looks could kill we'd all be ten feet under right now, that was pure gold JD. I couldn't have done better myself."
"I wouldn't believe it, if I hadn't seen it myself." Nathan said giving JD a pat on the arm.
"Here JD, I made a small wager with a few disbelieving locals after Cooper demanded you ride today. I must say in all honesty, I expected your anatomy and my money both to fly away. First you off your horse and then my money out the window, but if you didn't manage to surprise us all. Well done!" Ezra handed JD a wad of rolled up bills.
"And how exactly did you split that Ezra, considering it was JD's body taking all the punishment lately?" Josiah asked their resident conman.
"Out of respect for said achievement, I split it right down the middle; in all truthfulness that was one accomplishment I wouldn't try to diminish with money."
"Thanks Ezra." JD gratefully took the money out of the extended hand.
"All right, JD finally has some money in his pocket, so he's buying tonight fellas'. Barkeep another round over here, and just keep them coming!" Buck hollered while banging his beer mug on the table.
Chris leaned over to JD, "Don't worry about it kid, this party's on us tonight. Buck's right about one thing, that look on Cooper's face, was priceless. Forget that you rode the horse...I'll buy your beer all night just for that look alone!"
Laughing, JD looked up at his friend´s faces. "Ya it was pretty good... wasn't it?"
+ + + + + + +
It had been a long emotional day, and JD felt completely faded after three drinks, while the rest of the saloon was just warming up.
"Vin...I'm beat. Think I'll check on Windy and Seven, then call it a night." Vin was the only member of the seven he could get near in the crowded room.
Come on kid, I'll walk with ya. I have to bed Peso down yet anyways." Vin said as they fought there way though the crowd of mostly drunk well-wishers.
Vin picked out the seven stalls their horses were bedded down in, while JD gave them all a quick rubdown. The horses all stood relaxed under JD's quiet, sure hands. The only sounds were of the horses chewing on their evening hay rations and the gentle murmurs of the two men as they completed the nightly chores. Once finished in the livery they made their way along the path to Windy's corral; the red stallion stood in his usual corner looking out over the prairie. JD tossed some grass hay over the fence then climbed through the thick wooden boards to do a final check on the horse.
From under the moonlight, a healthy red gleam rippled off smooth muscles as the horse trotted across the paddock to the hay manger. JD ran a light hand down Wind's shoulder then backed off giving the horse some space to eat. Vin marveled at the contrast between what he had come to call the two JD's. The impulsive, foolhardy kid with the 'chaos, panic, disorder...my job is done here' attitude. To this new JD standing beside a once ruthless, savage stallion who was full of mistrust and suspicion. All six men were sure JD would blunder full tilt into this horse fiasco with his usual bursting at the seams, cocky behavior, but instead a compassionate young man full of empathy, took his time to make a connection. The six were proud of the young man that was immerging.
"So how long ya been able to ride him, and how come ya didn't let us in on your secret?" Vin asked as he leaned over the rail fence.
"He's only let me ride him the last couple of days. He bucks so hard...I finally figured out I would never be able to stick him and I doubt anyone else could either. So I started to concentrate on him not bucking instead of me trying to buck him out. I probably just wrecked one of the greatest bucking horses the west ever produced!"
+ + + + + + +
The august sun beat down relentlessly on Four Corners, tempers, like the weather were hot. The seven lawmen were kept busy with brawls in the saloons, where the warm beer did nothing to cool bad humor. The ranchers and farmers were battling over water rights as creeks and ponds dried up. The seven put in long exhausting days as they worked diligently at breaking up disputes before a range war broke out. Everyone in the territory prayed for rain to fall soon. Judge Cooper spent most of the summer in Washington, but kept abreast of activities around his ranch via his son. He would bide his time, sure that the seven would soon make a mistake that even Judge Travis could not fix, then the gunslingers would be removed from their duties. He hoped he was in town when it finally happened.
JD rode his old reliable mount Seven, when he was out on the range or riding a patrol. The small horse was a lot like his rider, agile and athletic brimming with enthusiasm whenever JD came to saddle him up. JD felt pangs of guilt this summer over the amount of time he spent with Windy instead of his faithful gelding, but at the very least made sure he got the little horse out of the barn once a day.
One day Chris strolled down to the corral to see how the red stud horse was coming along with his training. JD would still appear disheveled on occasion after a particular bad session with the horse, but they where getting spread further apart.
Chris was amazed at the transformation of the horse over the summer, he could see now why old man Wilson had wanted to use the stud to breed his mares. Proper feeding and exercise had muscled the stallion up. He was flashy to look at with a blaze running down his face and long white flaxen mane and tail that flowed against a vibrant red coat, but to Chris a good horse was never a bad color regardless of what color he was. He had a handsome head with wide set eyes and well set upright ears, that attached to a long arched neck. Coming off well-defined withers he had a short straight back, well- sprung ribs and hindquarters that were close-coupled with good muscling over his loins. Chris thought it was no wonder he had so much power to buck. He had a good wide chest with lots of room for his heart and lungs, and clean straight legs. The only thing Chris would fault him for was his shoulder was a little too straight and cannon bones kinda' short, which could make him a choppy ride, but overall he was sixteen hands of pure impressive.
Because the stallion still acted head shy JD borrowed a hackamore made out of woven horsehair from Chris to try, instead of a bit. The hackamore fit over the horse's nose for steering and brakes, unlike a bit that he had to get in the horse's mouth. JD spent weeks sacking Windy out with old oat bags until the big horse was oblivious to things flying around him or touching him. When JD re-introduced a saddle to being thrown on his back and cinched up, Windy barely even flinched.
The first time he rode with the saddle on all six men showed up to watch, they said they wanted to see JD fly again, but JD knew they were worried about him. He wasn't sure if he appreciated the effort on their behalf or not. JD walked the horse around the corral for a few laps then quietly picked up the reins and brought a foot up to the stirrup.
"Any of you know who said 'the more who watch, the worse your horse acts and ya ride'?" Buck suddenly asked.
"You...just now." Josiah answered.
JD stopped moving, removed his foot from the stirrup and closed his eye's, cursing under his breath. "Don't ya all have something else that you need to be doing right now?" He asked hopefully.
"No!" Came the unanimous answer.
JD again stepped into the stirrup, the leather squeaking as he swung his leg over and set his weight down on the saddle. JD felt Windy's back hump up under him, raising him higher. JD wriggled his seat lightly and clucked; the horse took his first reluctant step, then his second. His back dropped back down as he moved off in a faltering walk sequence, the saddle still squeaking and the stirrup leathers gently brushing his sides. The six men on the fence collectively let out the breaths they hadn't even realized they had been holding.