Ratings: PG13 for violence
First in the Parables series.
A wild beard obscured most of his face, and the skin that remained exposed to the elements had long since chapped, blistered, and resolved into a mottled tan. The tortured skin bagged and wrinkled around a pair of blank, pale gray eyes that stared out at the world without a trace of emotion or even anything vaguely human lurking in their depths.
For a man who spent his growing-up on the carpets of a second-rate haberdashery in Baltimore, Terrence Jones didn't look like what a person would expect; with the exception of his birdlike frame and the tendency of his right hand to quiver violently, he looked more like a hardbitten frontiersman or prospector than the son of a businessman.
Wilbur Jones probably never knew what to make of his son, who passed his time reading dime novels and playing with beads of mercury on the shop floor, pretending they were bullets. Terry always wanted to be a cowboy or a lawman, while his father insisted that he learn the family trade and that he put such idiot notions out of his head, for the love of God. When Terry turned eighteen, Wilbur's protests silenced for good as his son turned to a completely different- and bloody purpose- the knives reserved for trimming ribbons.
Eighteen years passed, and as Terry made his way westward, tales followed him. Tales of a crazy, bearded bounty hunter with blank, quicksilver-gray eyes that looked through a man to see his living soul. When he walked into a saloon, men would edge back a safe distance from him- not because of any outward show of force, but because of some instinctual voice in them that urged them to get away. Stories spread about Mercury Jones, the man with crazy eyes and a shaky hand, who was about at reckless as a person could get, but the tales were told in tones of fear, instead of awe. The man he hunts'll have his soul sent to Hell before Mercury Jones even puts a bullet in him, they whispered- it'll be scared right outta him.
Mercury Jones pulled out the poster of the man he tracked this time: Vin Tanner. He studied the crudely-sketched picture for a minute, running his tongue over his teeth, and then carefully folded the parchment up to tuck it away in his jacket. Mercury Jones had followed the man and his seven friends from Eagle Bend, taking a shortcut just outside the town and beating them to a point where the path ran alongside a bluff. He calmly figured that, from the stories he had heard of the men, they'd bury Tanner somewhere, and he would just have to dig the body up some night and get back to Tascosa with it.
Good plan, Terry, he congratulated himself. Good plan, old sport.
Hee hee... old sport.
His dad used to call him that.
"Whatcha doin' there, old sport?"
"Playin' cowboys n' Indians. I'm gonna be a cowboy one day."
"Son, you're gonna run this store one day. Why don't you come help an old man out with some hat lining, huh?"
Loading his rifle took a lot out of him, as it always did- his right hand shook badly, and he kept dropping the bullets, but eventually he got the gun ready and he crouched down to wait. He didn't have to wait long. The seven men came loping down the trail, their guard relaxed somewhat. Mercury Jones picked out Tanner as the one riding in front, right next to a towering and forbidding-looking man in black, who would be Chris Larabee, his sources in Eagle Bend said. His sources had also mentioned Tanner as being in possession of an old calvary slouch hat and a black gelding- mentioned it just before passing out with fright or soiling themselves.
The man in question had a slouch hat and a black gelding, but if it wasn't Tanner, Mercury Jones decided, it wasn't going to bother him much. He'd made mistakes before, he reflected philosophically, and he'd make them again. Everyone did.
"Where'd I go wrong, Mildred?" his father asked.
"Oh, you haven't gone wrong, Wilbur," his mother assured him. "Boy's just going through a phase. He'll grow out of it."
"I sure hope so." Sighing, his father leaned back into the chair and picked up his glass of wine. "You know he was flicking those mercury beads at Mrs. Darlington today? He kept shouting something about how he was going to drag her body back to Kansas and claim a bounty on her... God damn the boy."
A choked sound, somewhere between a snarl and giggle, escaped from the throat of Mercury Jones as his right hand steadied, as he sighted down the barrel and pulled the trigger. The resounding thunder of the gunshot obliterated the sound, and Mercury Jones watched as Tanner seemed to fly backward off his saddle and land in the dust amid the flashing hooves of the horses behind him. The dust obscured the body at first, but as the riders behind hauled their mounts to a standstill and leapt to gather around the fallen man, it settled.
From behind his screen, Mercury Jones strained to see if he'd gotten the man good enough. He couldn't tell, because Larabee had bent over his fallen friend, with the dark-skinned healer kneeling down as well. If he thought about it, Mercury Jones would have cursed at not being able to tell.
When a muffled howl of agony reached his ears, though, he got his answer.
Smiling to himself, Mercury Jones moved his horse into the shadows a little, to watch and to listen.
And to wait.
He waited, listening to the sounds of the six men's desperate exchange.
"Dammit, Nathan! You got your stuff!"
"Yeah, yeah I do... I got it right here. Chris, you're gonna haveta move over a bit, give me some room to work. J.D., you pass me my stuff when I ask for it, okay?"
"Sure thing, Nathan."
"Chris, step back now, let Nathan do his job."
"Vin... Vin... we're gonna get that bastard..."
"Please don't die..."
"Chris... it don't look good."
Mercury Jones watched as the black-clad man turned back to Tanner and crouched by him, then straightening to pick up the fallen man and make his way over to his waiting horse. After an initial awkward moment, Larabee had Tanner cradled across his saddle and, when he turned his horse to start down the path, Mercury Jones saw Tanner's blood shining against the dark shirt Larabee wore.
"C'mon, boys..." Larabee's voice was so soft, Mercury Jones had to strain to hear him.
"Let's get him home..."
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Continues in Vin, Unauthorized