Part 5: So much for the element of surprise...
"I still say we just go in guns blazing and take the place by force." Sam sat at the dinner table, arms crossed, "Brute force and ignorance is the only language people like Philo understand."
"I like the way you think!" Jayne smiled, "But just charging in like that is kwong-chee duh."
"Jayne's right." Mal shuddered, "Did I just say that?"
"Afraid you did, sir." Zoë smiled, "We need to find out how many guns he's got, and how good they are."
"That shouldn't be too hard." Hank pulled out a piece of paper from his long coat, "There's a shooting competition in town two days from now. Most of his boy's will be there for all to see."
"Good idea." Mal nodded, "Jayne, you up for a little healthy competition?"
Wash landed the shuttle with his regular grace, not even jolting Mal and Jayne as they looked out the window.
"No need to win; just stay in the competition long enough for us to get a good look at what we'll be up against." Mal explained, keeping back in the shadows where he wouldn't be seen, "And don't do anything to draw attention to yourself. I don't want to have to go and bail you out of prison."
"Relax Mal." Jayne lifted the case containing Vera, "Easy as eating pie!"
"Last time we had pie, you ended up with half of it down the front of your shirt." Wash couldn't help but comment, drawing him a stern look from the captain. "Ok, I'll just shut up and do the flying..."
"No, you'll go out and work the crowd." Mal pulled the pilot to his feet, "I want to know what people think of dear old uncle Philo, how many of them would help him of their own free will."
"Fun, fun, fun!" Wash checked his pistol, "What an exciting life I lead..."
"There's no need to over do this." Mal whispered into the radio linked to the receiver in Jayne's ear, "We've got all the info we need: miss the next shot and drop out of the competition."
"What ever you say, Captain." Jayne sighted along the length of his rifle. A gentle squeeze of the trigger, and the round hit dead center, "But I could use the prize money."
"Why do I even bother?" Mal sighed, "Look, Philo's on his way over to you now. He'll probably offer you a job. Listen to what he has to say, thank him, but say you're just passing through."
"I got you." Jayne got to his feet, pulling the magazine from Vera and clearing the chamber before leaving the range enclosure.
"Say there, you're mighty handy with that there gun." Philo smiled, a thick cigar in his mouth, "Names Philo, Philo Reynolds; I own the biggest ranch on Shadow. I could always use a man with your talents."
"What's the pay?" Jayne smiled, catching sight of Wash out of the corner of his eye.
"For someone like you, 100-pltanum a mouth, free room and board. What you say?"
"Sounds tempting, but I'm only passing through." Jayne snapped closed Vera's case and turned back to the firing range: the next contestant fired at the distant target, missing by the narrowest of margins, "But it looks like my money troubles are taken care of." He turned back Philo, "Much obliged for the offer though."
"As you wish." Philo watched him walk off into the crowed, and was joined by a taller and much younger man, "Son Number One, I want that man followed: I want to know who he is, where he's staying, and who he's working for."
"I'm on it Pa." The younger man nodded.
"Ok, we now have a rough idea what we're up against and how good they are." Mal looked down at the map spread out over the dinner table, "We also know he normally only has half of them at the ranch at any one time. The rest he keeps in Clarkstown, in this boarding house here." He pointed to a large building on the edge of town.
"Those are mainly the hired guns." Hank sipped his coffee, "The ranch hands, the ones who ones who do the actual work, live in this building here." He pointed at a large bunkhouse near the Ranch house, "Not more than a dozen of them and none of them are fighters. Philo may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he only hires the best."
"That's may be, but we can't count them out." Zoë shook her head, "We need at lest two people to watch them incase they try and breakout."
"There are only four of us." Mal shook his head, "Me, you, Jayne and Sam."
"Five." Hank put his cup down, "I got a score to settle with that piece of Tzao gao."
"Ok, five." Mal nodded, "You and Sam keep an eye on the farm hands and cover our escape back to the shuttle. Things go bad, we bug out and head back here." He looked at the young farmer, "You realize what you have to lose by helping us. I can get you off planet and away, but I can't replace your farm."
"I know what I'm getting into." Hank nodded, "I think it's worth it."
"Ok, I think that's all we can do for now." Mal stretched, releasing some of the tension that had built up in his body, "I saw we break for dinner."
"We should probably head back to the ship." Kaylee look at the sun as it approached the horizon, then at River, "Captain won't like it if we're not back by dinner..."
"Hey pretty thing." A lecherous looking man stepped out in front of them, "What are a couple of nice girls like you two doing in this part of town?"
"Oh, we where just passing..." Kaylee backed up nervously, "Just looking to go home."
"Now that's a good idea." The man smiled, the stink of whisky thick on his breath, "Who don't I come and keep you company?" He grabbed Kaylee and pulled her close, "We can play house."
"Let her go, or gad as my witness I will drop you where you stand!" Sam appeared out of the shadows, her revolver pointing at the man's head. She cocked the hammer, "Now!"
"Scrawny little thing anyway." The man let the terrified engineer go, "Wouldn't have lasted long anyway."
"Then why don't you go across town to the whore-house and find something more to your liking?" Sam booted him in the seat of his pants, sending him staggering into the street, "Go on, get!"
"Thanks!" Kaylee gasped for breath.
"You're welcome." Sam holstered her gun, "Let's go."
Unseen in an alleyway across the road, a match struck up, lighting a cigarette, and illuminating the face of Philo Reynolds Junior. He pulled a radio from his hip, "Pa, its Junior: you'll never guess whose back in town…"
To Be Continued...