Disclaimer I own very little, especially not CSI NY. But I wish I did.
Notes Thank you VERY MUCH for all the reviews I've had, they've meant a lot. Thank you for suggestions, including: ImasupernaturalCSI, Blue Shadowdancer, Sally Jetson, Marialisa, Shining Zephyr, Moska (guns and horses!) Laplandgurl, foxdvd, notesofwimsey, greyslostwho and chrysalis escapist (sorry if I've missed anyone) And THANK YOU to everyone who's reviewed.
If you've been reading through and haven't reviewed yet, please tell me what you've thought with this last chapter.
Final chapter, Mac's turn again - he is Sheriff after all ; )
Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?
Chapter 9: Ride Your Troubles Out Of Town
Shoulda' guessed. Moment he slipped out o' that cellar, I shoulda' guessed he was heading off to do no good deeds. But I didn't, and it's led to our current predicament. Trouble is, it shouldn't be their predicament, should be mine alone. My battle not theirs, even though I know that, good people they are, they're gonna want to be fightin', especially Daniel Messer, and Stella.
If anyone gets hurt, if that man hurts a hair on any of their heads, then there won't be a hole he can slither into that'll conceal him from me. On my head though it'll be if anyone gets hurt. Can't let that happen…
"Well, Stan, quite a turn up for the books. Who'd've thought you'd be involved in this?" Reckon he gets the point I'm making. Never been subtle with sarcasm. Gerrard laughs. Throws his head right back, and laughs in our faces. I'm keenly aware of Stella at my side near enough quivering with rage, and Messer behind me making the floor shake with his anger. Miss Monroe's none too happy either. Stella reaches carefully for a pistol. Unfortunately, Gerrards' eyes are too damn sharp, and in an instant there's the muzzle of a wicked looking revolver pointing right at her head.
"One more move from you, Missy, and it'll be the last you ever make. And I'm sure Taylor here ain't gonna want to see anything happen to that pretty neck o' yours. Guess too the boys and I'd like to have some more fun yet with you and the other little lady."
The words kinda' drip like poison from off of his lips, he licks them slowly and I can feel the heat in the air from the five other men surrounding us. They're all too close, can smell the sweat and wrongness of 'em. Somethin' that lingers on men who've done real wrong; a reek of evil.
Stella ain't takin' this silently, "Yeah? Try anything of the sort and you'll be payin' for it for the rest of your miserable and short life, Gerrard." She spits back. Messer I can hear almost choking behind me, Miss Monroe's given a low hiss of anger. Just hope Stella ain't misjudged her words.
Gerrard grins like the devil he is, and the muzzle slides down her neck and lower, "Oh, I intend to try." Before he can say or do anymore, and before I lose control of myself and the situation, I get a few more words out.
"That's enough, Stan. I'm gonna warn you now, touch anyone here and it's me you're answerin' to. Me and the whole of this town. You'll have justice served on you. Don't know what you think you're doing, maybe you don't yourself, but I'm willin', for now, to take a leap of faith and offer you an honourable way out. Man to man. Think about this. Give yourselves up now, all of you, and you can still keep a modicum of honour. Whatever's in this chest surely ain't worth a man's honour."
I ignore the snorts of disgust at the mention of Gerrard's honour. Gerrard don't though.
"Something any of you wanna say? Huh?" His fingers have begun to curl around the trigger.
"I'm waitin' for your answer, Stan." I get in before either of my more impetuous companions can say anythin' else. Even though my thoughts are no less than theirs.
"You don't know the half of it, Taylor." Gerrard snarls, "You never do, that's your trouble. Here in this miserable excuse for a town, you don't see the bigger picture, see what's beyond your borders. Now I do, and I see that there's a chance for me to be movin' on to bigger things. Workin' my way outta this state and into the big cities…"
"Way I see it, Stan, the only thing you're headin' for is a big mess, which I'm offerin' you the chance out of. You'll never get away with what you're planning, so why not take me up on my offer. What d'you say?"
"Ha! You ain't in any kind of position to be offerin' me chances, Taylor. Way I'm seeing things here is, I got the upper hand. Six against four, them's odds to my liking. Now enough talkin', hand over that there box, and maybe I'll kill you quick, instead of the slow and painful death I had planned."
We're surrounded now by the smiles of his ruthless outlaws, all of 'em rough with the dirt of the plains, and starin' with the cruel and empty eyes of men who've lived their lives on the outside o' human nature. There ain't a sound 'cept the harsh breathing of 'em, and I can hear in that sound the longing for our deaths, and worse.
Six guns on all of us, and we're kinda' bunched together around the box. Only plan I can think of is buying time and getting some truths outta Gerrard. Same time, maybe give us the chance to reach surreptitious-like for our weapons. Happen to know that Messer and Stella will have at least two apiece on them. If not more, in Stella's case. Where she keeps them all is something I've tried to stop my mind wandering to many a time.
Gerrard flips his next words at me, and there's a gun pressed into my forehead held by one of his outlaws, "Stand aside, Taylor. Any false moves and we'll blow you all to pieces. Startin' with Miss Bonasera here, never known such an irritatin' woman…"
Stella's words kinda' crack the air with her fury, "Irritatin' don't even begin to describe you, you low life, snivelling' sonofabitch."
"Why you…" Gerrard raises his gun, to strike or shoot her, I don't hesitate to find out.
"Stan! Think about this. Now, as you'll appreciate, Stella's sometimes prone to sayin' things she don't mean." Out of the corner of my eye, I see her open her mouth about to breathe fire it seems, then she catches my look and understanding passes between us. Hopefully she picks up the mental apology I'm also makin' to her. Otherwise I'm gonna be payin' for this later. "Got somethin' of a fiery temper, as you know from past encounters. But I know she'll have no more to say on the matter till you've said your piece. Ain't that right, Stella?"
Look she gives me, I'm lucky not to be a dead man, and she fair suffocates with the effort of nodding at me. I may well be a dead man later. If we all got a later. Strikes me at that moment that it ain't gonna be long before Don, Ross and Hawkes are headin' back over here, Hammerback too. Realise now just why Don headed outta that cellar so fast, reckon he had an inkling of what Gerrard was up to. Good man. Deputy to be proud of, even with his overlikin' for victuals at times, Mrs Hammerback's cake in particular, which does his stomach no good. But he and the others are gonna find themselves runnin' into a whole heap o' trouble. I gotta keep Gerrard talking, and find the truth.
"Tell us what happened, Stan. Where'd it all start, huh? Guessing this all connects back to the robbery in town few years back?"
"You got that right at least, Taylor. Yeah, that's where it started." He's lowered his gun a fraction. The other men haven't flickered. "I weren't part of the original plan, mind. Came across the gang involved afterwards, ran into them as they was fleein' cross the plains, I was on my way here. Got them to agree a bargain; freedom and escape for a cut of the bounty."
"Who were they?" Reckon I can figure this out, given the knives we found on 'em all, but it's good to hear confirmation.
"Bunch of poor sailors takin' a chance. None left now, my associate here saw to the last two, other one had died naturally, but we managed to get his knife off of him." He jerks his head towards the man closest to me, who leers in an ugly fashion. "Jack's the man you been chasing your tails for. Got him to round up the final two, starting with your missing body, name of John Hawkins. Caught up with him myself not a few weeks ago, tried to get him to reveal the stash, bought him new boots as a bribe, but he'd have none of it, said he was off to dig it up himself so Jack and I being thick together, planned his demise." Gerrard laughs in a way that ain't entirely human, "Jack made real sure he was dead too, ha! Billy Downs was your second corpse, also been threatenin' to dig up the stash, Jack again proved useful, as did another small amount of poison from your drugstore. Really should get better security in there, Mac, or maybe the town needs a better Sheriff, huh?"
"So that's the why of all these visits to town." I'm having to keep a hold of Stella's fist, stop it slamming into Gerrard's face. Moment ain't right, yet.
"Thought I enjoyed your company?" The object of our hatred sneers, "Been trying to figure out exactly where the haul was buried. But dear Miss Monroe here figured it out real easy for me…"
"You're not gonna get anythin' else from me, you coward!" Miss Monroe retorts, I can see Messer's eyes fair bulging. Then I see somethin' else outta the corner of my eye that gives me cause for hope, and concern. Don, Hawkes, Ross and Hammerback are creepin' past the windows. Unseen, so far.
"Now what, you gonna add more blood to your conscience?" Don't reckon he's ever had one.
"Reckon I will, Taylor." His grin widens, and his weapon presses closer into Stella's skin.
"Now!" I yell, and it seems like all hell breaks loose in the saloon. Stella kicks upwards, and Gerrard crumples right over, not before her fist lands in his face. Same moment, Don and the others burst through the doors, firing on our enemies. The man whose gun had been moments before caressing my forehead, topples with a look of shock as one of Don's bullets finishes him.
Messer breaks loose from the man marking him, and places a bullet neatly between his eyes. Miss Monroe's not scared of taking part either; bullets go flying, and she succeeds in felling the man about to leap on top of Ross.
"Keep 'em coming Miss Monroe!" He shouts, all flushed with the excitement, and she's not far behind him.
"You got it, Mr Ross!"
Don's got lead pouring outta his weapon, and another outlaw goes down under his fire, despatched to the place that ain't heaven, but the one left rolls behind a chair, and starts shooting from behind there.
Bullets flying, and we're all tryin' to find shelter. Stella's busy fightin' with Gerrard who seems to be trying to get his hands round her throat. Problem is, I can't get a clear shot at him. Messer's pulled Miss Monroe over to the side of the bar, and both of 'em, with Hammerback, are taking shots at the outlaw sniping at us. Hawkes, Ross and Don are the other side of the bar trying to get round to take him down from behind, and I'm still tryin' to get a fix on Gerrard. But I can't risk hitting Stella. She'd never forgive me if I shot her.
Suddenly, she manages to grab a hold of him, but then he flings her away from him. She lands heavily, and seems stunned for a moment. My finger's already on the trigger, a clear shot to his head, but he rolls across the floor out of range. Before I've even thought about it, I'm diving under the bullets to reach Stella, make sure she's all right, but I don't even reach her. All I hear is my name yelled out, and a shot ringing past my ears, then a thud. Another thud. Then it all falls silent. Stella's got a pistol in her hand, a faint wisp of smoke curling from it, and to my right lies Gerrard's body, gun in his hand, unfired, pointing at me.
"Your life? Yeah, I did, don't make me have to do that again, Taylor. What the hell were you thinking?" Never been more pleased to see her so angry. I'm over beside her.
"Stella, I'm sorry, I didn't…
"Think. Kinda guessed that, Mac." She shakes her head, and this time I give her a hand up.
The other outlaw's shot down stone dead too, turns out by Hammerback's hand. He ain't lookin' too happy about that.
"This does not look good for my reputation, Taylor, not good at all. I'd like your assurance that this will not lead to rumours I've been unfairly trying to bring in business. I cannot afford even a whiff of scandal."
"Hammerback, you're the only undertaker in town. Not likely you're gonna be gettin' business nefariously is it?" Messer slaps him in the back with a snigger. Hammerback nefarious? Doesn't bear thinkin' about. "'Sides, now you got a whole lot more customers, includin' the one you were missin'. Ain't gonna be me accusin' you of anythin' other than bravery. Reckon the town'll be more than grateful, 'specially as we got back everything that was lost. You agree with me, Lindsay?" Wondered how long that was gonna take him.
Miss Monroe hardly blushes as she answers, "I sure do, Danny."
Even Hammerback seems reassured. We're standin' there now, breathin' hard, and just takin' a moment to be thankful we're all still alive. Words I'm thinkin' of just don't seem adequate, but I gotta say somethin' at this point.
"Bravery's been the order of the day here, and I include all of you in that. Can't say much more than thank you, and I know that the whole of Hattanville's gonna be wantin' to say the same."
I find Stella's hand in mine, "Town owes its thanks to you as well, Mac. Never forget that." Everyone's nodding, and for a moment my eyes feel like they're kinda' stinging. Musta' got a speck of gunpowder in 'em.
There's no more left to say at that point. Afternoon's crept into early evening, and we got a lot to do, not least a clean up and some returning of property to all the folks in town. The day ends up with the biggest celebration Hattanville's ever seen, even bigger than the day the railroad reached us. Seems like everyone's made their way over to the saloon and is singing, laughing, dancing, or just enjoying each other's company: Messer and Miss Monroe I can see happily engaged with each other in a dimly lit corner; Hawkes is sitting with Hammerback and his wife sharing stories; Ross is sitting next to Miss Novak and she's smiling at his animated talk; Don's finally got a plate of food in front of him, biggest plate I've ever seen, and seems to be enjoying conversation with a dark-haired lady with a heaven-sent name. Seems like a good time for me to slip out and leave them all to their enjoyment. Stella, I can see safely in her usual place, orderin' a couple of willing volunteers to help with the servin' of drinks. Don't think she sees me as I move quietly out the doors and across the street.
But I might've got that wrong. I've only just climbed up into the saddle when a voice calls out to me.
"Hey, Mac. Where you headin' after such a day as this?"
Stella's standin' there with that glint in her eyes. Standin' and waitin', twirlin' a pistol round her finger in a nonchalant manner.
"Sure hope you got the safety on that." I say, not knowin' what else to at that moment. There's much unspoken.
She shrugs, "Maybe I have, maybe I haven't. But you ain't answered my question. Don't keep a lady waitin', Sheriff."
"Wouldn't dream of it, especially not such a lady as yourself." That makes her smile, and the pistol stops spinning as I tell her, "I'm headin' for the hills, just an evenin' ride, whilst all's well in town."
She nods, and slips the pistol back into the folds of her dress, scuffs her boot in the dust and then looks up at me, "Care for some company, or is it a lonely ride?"
For a moment, there's no sound apart from a soft snuffle from my blue roan, impatient to be off and galloping. I hesitate, but the sun sinking over the hills shines radiant on her face, and all I can think then is what a damn fine woman she is. And how much her company means to me.
She's still waitin' for me to answer though, and I know she won't wait for ever. I hold my hand out to her, "Care to join me? Can't promise it'll be smooth ground the whole way."
Light blazes in the depths of her eyes, "Nothin' I'd like more, Mac, thought you'd never be askin'."
Stella seizes my hand, and with a graceful leap, she's sittin' up side-saddle in front of me. Suddenly her hands are wound around my own, and around the reins, "Where we headin' then?"
"Wherever we want, Stella." I smile and it feels good to smile. Maybe I don't do it often enough. Maybe I should, and maybe now I can.
She turns to face me, the sky behind her in a rapture of red, orange and gold sunset, and for a moment there is the promise of her lips against mine.
"Reckon we follow our hearts, Mac. See where the road takes us, rough or smooth, see where we end up." She grins and tugs the reins, "Best hold on tight!"
I'm keepin' tight hold of her as we break straight into a gallop. Can't stop the smile on my face. Looks like it ain't gonna be a lonely ride after all, and that suits me just fine.
Longest chapter ever! It's ended, but with a ride into the sunset, it had to be XD Thank you for reading, please review and tell me what you think, and I'll try to do a sequel :D Thank you, Lily x