The Magnificent Seven
By Cindy Brewer
Dan Kelson glanced out the window of the doctor's clinic next to the general store. Larabee, damn.
Doctor Sheppard was still in examining Sam, which left Kelson alone to try to come up with a solution to this new predicament.
All the stories he had heard about Larabee flashed through his mind in a matter of seconds.
The last thing in the world he wanted to do was get into a gunfight with the man. Kelson knew if that happened he'd end up ethier in jail or dead. But as he looked back at the closed door of the doctor's office Dan knew what he had to do.
If Noah could make a deal with a mad man to keep his brother safe the least Kelson could do was draw Larabee's attention away.
Chris split up the rest of the group sending Buck and JD to the general store. He glanced at Vin as they walked toward the Saloon. The younger man had been unusually quiet and reserved since they had left Four Corners. Chris knew Vin was concerned about Casey but he suspected that something else was bothering the tracker. His instincts were tellin' him that this all lead back to the bounty on Vin's head.
"Somebody' on your trail, cowboy?"Chris asked quietly as they paused just outside the saloon.
Vin glanced at his friend. "Somebody's always on my trail."
Chris wasn't letting it go. He knew they had more important things to do but he had to get to the bottom of what was troubling Vin. The tracker had been edgy since Casey had been attacked.
"You think Casey's attack is your fault."Chris concluded.
Vin sighed knowing Chris wasn't going to give up until he knew the whole story. "You remember the noose?"
Chris nodded recalling the package Vin had gotten a week ago.
"I've gotten three more since. All in the same wrappin', all the same handwriting."The tracker replied quietly.
"What was in them?"Larabee asked.
Vin shook his head. "Don't matter, they were just a way to tell me that somebody's on my trail. I got to comfortable, Chris, should've moved on a long time ago and Casey may have paid the price for that."
Larabee nodded as he took a step onto the sidewalk when the first shots rang out. Instinctively he jumped behind the horse trough using it for cover. He glanced to his right and saw that Vin had dove into an alley.
"See anything?"Chris shouted over the roar of gunfire.
Vin nodded as he squeezed of a shot before slamming back against the wall of the alley. "Roof, one guy."
Chris cautiously raised his head and looked at the rooftops across the street. Finally he spotted a silhouette on top of the General Store. Two more shots came at him causing Larabee to duck back down. As he did he heard the familiar sound of Buck's gun followed close behind by the double shot of JD's twin colts.
Frustrated that one man could hold them at bay, Chris stood and fired three shots. He was rewarded with a sharp cry of pain as one of the bullets found it's mark.
"Everybody alright?"Larabee asked as he walked into the street glancing back to make sure Vin was behind him.
Josiah nodded as he came to stand next to Chris rifle in hand; Ezra close behind. "Yes, do we know who our friend is?"
Larabee shook his head. "Obviously we're gettin' close. Vin, Buck, go get our 'friend'. If he's still alive take him to the jail, I'd like a few words."
The two men nodded and quickly crossed the street to the general store.
"What's going on?"Sam Cole demanded weakly as the doctor rose from his hiding place near the small stove.
Sheppard shook his head in amazement. "Some fool took on a group of gunslingers."
Sam closed his eyes tiredly knowing that Kelson had to be the one who started the gunfight. He could only hope that his friend was alive.
There'd been too much blood shed in this mess already.
J.D. fought to keep a reign on his tangled emotions as he leaned against the wall of the jail. Vin and Buck had found their attacker alive but he hadn't said a word since they had placed him in the cell. The black haired wry man was just barely older than Vin.
Chris crossed the short length of the cell to the cot where the young man sat clutching his injured shoulder.
"I'm only going to ask you this once."Chris began quietly."Who are you?"
Normally Dan would have let Larabee stew for awhile, despite the man's dark reputation. But he had forgotten how much pain one little bullet could cause. His shoulder felt like it was going to tear apart into a million pieces.
With a sigh Kelson slumped against the wall, closing his eyes."Dan Kelson."
Vin exchanged a surprised glance with Ezra as they stood near the sheriff's desk. They had both been expecting the man to be one of the Cole brothers.
"Why were you shooting at us?"Buck asked as he leaned the cell door.
Kelson opened his eyes looking past Buck to the window. "Figured I'd draw your attention away from my friends."
"Who are your friends?"Larabee demanded.
Kelson met his gaze."Noah and Sam Cole, you may have heard of them."
Chris grabbed the man's shirt collar and yanked him roughly to his feet. It'd been a long two weeks which showed no sign of ending. He was in no mood for a kid who thought he was funny.
"Where are they?"Chris asked in a tight voice as he shoved the younger man against the wall.
Dan cried out as pain sliced through his wounded shoulder. It took him a long moment to catch his breath enough so he could speak.
"C-Camped fifteen miles north of town."Kelson replied in a strained voice. "Can't miss it, twenty men."
Chris frowned at the number of men. He knew from Josiah's information that the Cole brothers worked in small groups.
"Who are they workin' for?"Larabee asked as he released his hold slightly.
Kelson squeezed his eyes shut as another wave of pain washed over him. "Never should've taken this job....the guy's a complete nutcase. Name's Eli.....Eli Joe."
Chris dropped the man none to gently onto the cot as he turned to look at Vin.
"Well that certainly makes this more intriguing."Ezra commented dryly breaking the silence.
Chris glared at the gambler slightly as he exited the cell. "Ezra, go wire the Judge, we're going to need the army to pick up what's left."
Standish nodded and quickly left.
"Josiah, get the Doc to look at our friend."Larabee ordered as he came to stand next to Tanner.
"Think he's tellin' the truth?"Chris asked as Josiah left the small room.
The tracker nodded as he glanced over at J.D. "This whole mess makes sense now. Should've known that Eli was behind it."
Chris placed a supportive hand on Tanner's shoulder. "We'll get him, Vin, I promise."He turned to face the others. "Get your gear, we ride in ten minutes."
The men filed out, Buck and J.D. being the last ones.
"How's the girl?"Kelson asked softly as J.D. reached the end of the cell.
The youth froze then slowly turned around.
Buck stopped by the sheriff's desk and turned around quickly. He crossed over to the cell watching J.D. closely.
J.D. gripped the bars of the cell fighting the overwhelming urge to open the door and beat the man to a bloody pulp.
"She's alive, no thanks to you."J.D. spat, each word an effort.
Kelson nodded relief washing over him. "Good, never meant to hurt her."
J.D. shook his head fighting his rage but all he saw was Casey's battered and bruised body.
"Why?"Dunne demanded in a choked voice.
Buck stepped forward. "J.D., son, let's go."
J.D. shook his head. "No, not until we know why. We nearly lost her, Buck, there has to be a reason."
Kelson met the younger man's gaze. "She saw Noah.....Eli made it clear to take care of any witnesses."
J.D. literally saw red and he lunged for Kelson momentarily forgetting about the cell door.
Buck grabbed the youth before he hit the cell door and dragged him toward the door.
"Damnit Buck, let me go!!"J.D. shouted as he tried to break his friend's grasp.
Wilmington tightened his hold. "Listen to me, J.D., he's not worth it."
J.D. continued to struggle. "They broke Casey's spirit, Buck, she's never gonna be the same and all because the Bastard's didn't want a witness!"
"I know, son, I know."Buck replied gently. "Casey will get the justice she deserves, I promise you that."
The anger left J.D. as quickly as it had come. Buck released his friend and J.D. started for the door.
Dunne paused in the doorway turning to face Kelson. "You better pray that we find your friends. If we don't you'll hang for what happened to Casey."
Chris stopped the group about ten miles outside of town allowing Vin and Ezra to scout ahead.
With what was at stake Chris had to be sure about what they were up against. This was a bad situation to begin with but with Eli Joe added to the mix all hell could break loose very easily.
"How's J.D.?"Larabee asked as Buck came to stand next to him.
Wilmington looked back toward the small stream where Josiah and J.D. were watering the horses.
Buck shook his head wearily. "After you left the jail J.D. went after Kelson. I just barely got the kid away from the cell before he strangled the guy. I don't know how he's gonna react when we come face to face with Eli."
Chris nodded as he glanced toward the horizon. He hadn't wanted to send Vin to scout ahead but the tracker was the only one who knew what Joe looked like.
"Keep an eye on him."Chris replied even though he knew he was stating the obvious.
"Always."Buck replied quietly. "I just hope this nightmare ends today."
Chris nodded as he spotted Ezra and Vin heading their way. "It will, one way or another."
With Vin's confirmation of Kelson's story the six peacekeepers headed out.
"You okay?"Chris asked as he pulled his horse along side of Tanner's.
The former bounty hunter nodded his blue eyes fixed on the horizon. "Think this will finally be over, Chris?"Vin asked softly. "Think I'll be able to put Tucsoca behind me?"
"Yes."Chris replied just as the camp came into view.
Mary looked up from her printing press as her father-in-law stepped through the door.
"Hello Orrin."Mary greeted as she stepped toward him. "Billy's looking forward to having lunch with you."
Travis nodded. "So am I. Just wanted to let you know I received a telegram."
Mary's face brightened. "From Chris?"
"Indirectly."Travis replied as he leaned against the desk."Standish wired saying Larabee requested Army backup."
"That sounds like they've run into trouble."Mary concluded worriedly.
Orrin shook his head. "Or they could have found the one's responsible for Ms. Well's attack and are taking precautions."
The reporter nodded as she glanced at the clock above the desk. "Billy should be out of school by now."
"Everything will be alright, Mary."Orrin assured her as he briefly touched her left shoulder before turning and leaving The Clarion.
Chris wished they had more cover. That worried him more than the number of men in Joe's camp. Upon arrival Chris had split the group up between the only cover there was. He, Vin and Josiah behind a grass mound to the right of the camp and Ezra, J.D. and Buck behind a similar grass mound to the south.
It was a miracle they hadn't been spotted yet.
"So do we rush 'em?"Vin asked with a grim smile.
"Sounds like a good plan."Chris replied with a grin.