Magnificent Seven/Alias Smith and Jones. Originally published in the fanzine Let's Ride #9, from Neon RainBow fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: These aren't my characters. I'm just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. Uh, yeah, typing practice. They will be returned to their original owners (relatively) undamaged. No profit was made from the writing of this story; 'tis an amateur work of fiction.

Fireworks in Four Corners

by Susan M. M.

June 28, 1877

Tired and dusty, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode into Four Corners, Arizona Territory. Their horses picked up their hooves a little, knowing a town meant oats, water, and a comfortable livery stable.

"What first?" Curry asked. "Meal, drink, bath?"

"All of the above, and as soon as possible," Heyes replied, "but whiskey first. This trail-dust has left my throat as dry as a parson's sermon."

Curry nodded. He was tired and hungry, but he had to admit, a shot of whiskey sounded even better than a hot bath or a soft featherbed.

The two ex-outlaws watered their horses at the trough, slipped a feedbag over their noses, and once they were tethered, headed into the saloon to quench their own thirst.

"Two whiskeys," Heyes ordered. He threw a few coins on the counter.

From a table near the door, Ezra Standish gave the strangers a surreptitious glance. Both were dressed like cowboys. One had brown hair and brown eyes; he appeared to be in his mid-twenties. The younger one had blue eyes, and curly hair so matted with trail-dust that Ezra couldn't tell if it was dark blond or light brown.

"Saw a restaurant down the street. Food any good?" Curry asked.

"Ain't cordy blue," the bartender replied, "but it's all right if you don't mind paying. Now me, I can get you a sandwich, or a bowl of chili, and a whole lot cheaper than they will."

"Cordy blue?" Heyes repeated.

"Cordon bleu, Mr. Murphy. The phrase is cordon bleu," Ezra corrected. It had taken him forever to teach Murphy to brew coffee properly; he had given up on the bartender ever succeeding in providing a meal suitable for an educated palate. The dark-haired gambler rose and walked to the bar. He touched his hat. "Good afternoon, gentlemen. I take it you are new to our fair town?"

"Just rode in," Heyes agreed.

"And you are looking for lodgings and sustenance?" he continued in a soft southern accent.

Curry raised an eyebrow at Ezra's turn of phrase. Heyes just nodded.

"If you are merely passing through, you'll find the hotel comfortable enough," Ezra conceded, although his tone made it clear that the hotel did not meet his personal standards. "If you're planning to stay, there are some boarding houses that can provide more economical accommodations."

"Our plans are flexible at the moment," Heyes confessed.

"We're looking for work," Curry added.

"Anything in particular?" Ezra inquired.

"Anything honest–" Heyes began

"–As long as it ain't too hard on the back," Curry interrupted.

"We've tried our hands at just about everything. I'm Joshua Smith," Heyes introduced himself. "This is my partner, Thaddeus Jones."

"Ezra Standish." He touched his hat politely. "Perhaps I could interest you in a friendly game of cards?"

Heyes and Curry exchanged a quick smile with each other. Heyes played poker as well as most professional gamblers, and Curry was nearly as good. "Might be a pleasant way to pass an evening," Heyes agreed, his brown eyes twinkling. "Of course, we'll be better company once we've had dinner and a chance to clean up."

Ezra nodded. He hadn't wanted to be rude, but he would enjoy spending a few hours in the strangers' company much more once they'd had a chance to get reacquainted with soap and water. "I look forward to seeing you later, gentlemen."

Matthew Campbell grinned when he saw Billy Travis rolling a barrel hoop down the alley. "Hey, young'un. You like licorice?"

At the mention of candy, Billy forgot what his mother had told him about not talking to strangers. "Sure."

"C'mere, boy," Campbell invited him. "I got something to show you."

Heyes and Curry walked from the livery stable where they had left their horses to the hotel Ezra had recommended. "Bath first, to get rid of all the trail dust," Curry suggested. "Then a big, thick, juicy steak."

"Sounds good. Of course, after your cooking, anything would sound good."

"Could be worse," Curry teased his cousin. "Could be your cooking."

"Let go of me! Lemme go!"

Heyes traded glances with his partner. "That sounded like a kid."

"Yeah." Without another word, they broke into a run. Hearing a wordless, frightened howl, they doubled their speed.

The sight that met their eyes in the alley shocked even the two outlaws. Curry drew his gun, waited until he had a clear shot, and then fired.

Shrieking, Campbell collapsed as Kid Curry's bullet passed through his calf. He hit his head on a rock and fell silent. Billy tried to run, but tripped.

A moment later, JD, Nathan, and Josiah arrived. They took one look at the scene before their eyes: Billy on the ground, scared, crying, his trousers down; two strangers with guns drawn. Campbell was half-hidden behind a rain barrel.

Josiah murmured softly, "Leviticus, chapter eighteen, verse twenty-two. Abomination."

"Billy, are you all right?" Nathan asked gently.

"Get 'em up," JD ordered. "You're under arrest."

Heyes and Curry raised their hands slowly. "Easy there. He's the one you're after." Both held their guns by the trigger guard, ready to toss them down if the young sheriff ordered.

Nathan approached Billy slowly. He glanced down at Campbell. "This one's bleeding, JD."

"Who hurt you, Billy?" Nathan inquired.

Silently, the boy pointed to Campbell.

Josiah holstered his gun. "Sorry, gentlemen, we owe you an apology."

Heyes and Curry lowered their hands and put their own guns away. Heyes explained, "We heard the boy yell and came to see what the problem was."

"Us, too," JD said. "Sorry we thought you did it."

Nathan drew his knife and cut some strips from Campbell's shirt to make bandages. He hastily bound the wound while Josiah questioned Billy.

"Did he hurt you, Billy, or just scare you?" asked the ex-preacher.

"Keep an eye on him, JD," Nathan ordered. "I'll fix him up at the jail. Billy, let me take a look at you, make sure you're all right." The Negro healer checked the boy as quickly as possible, not wanting to embarrass him. There was no blood, or any wounds that he could see; anything else could wait until he could examine the boy in private. "Pull up your trousers, Billy. I'll take you home to your ma."

"I'll go with you," Josiah volunteered. He reached down and scooped the boy up into his arms.

"I can walk, Mr. Sanchez," Billy protested.

"Don't doubt you can," Josiah agreed amiably. "But I'll carry you anyway, until Mr. Jackson's had a chance to make sure you're all right."

"Could you two help me get this piece of sh–" JD interrupted himself, not wanting to swear in front of Billy. "–to get him to the jail?"

Heyes and Curry traded amused glances at the thought that they were escorting someone else to the hoosegow.

"Sure thing," Heyes agreed.

"Never knew anyone who deserved it more," Curry chimed in.

"Miz Travis?" Nathan called out.

"Yes?" Mary Travis took one look at Billy in Josiah's arms. "What happened? What's wrong?"

"I'm fine, Mama," Billy protested. "Put me down, Mr. Sanchez."

"I don't think he's hurt, Miz Travis. Just scared." The ex-slave lowered his voice. "A man caught him, pulled his britches down. He was– He was…" Noting the horrified look on her face, he assured her, "Nothing happened. The man's caught and in jail."

"Oh, thank Heaven," she said. Josiah set Billy down, and she grabbed her son, hugging him tight.

"You should've seen the man who shot him, Mama. He was as good as Mr. Larabee," Billy said in awe.

"Who was it?" she asked, transforming from mother to reporter.

Josiah shook his head. "Pair of strangers. They're helping JD get the skunk to jail."

"If'n you don't mind, Miz Travis, I'd like to check Billy in private, make sure he's all right," Nathan suggested.

Mary nodded. Nathan led the boy off, and the blonde turned to Josiah. "Where would I find these men? I want to thank them for rescuing Billy."

"Might still be at the jail," the ex-preacher guessed. "Or maybe at the hotel. If they're new in town, they'd need a place to stay."

"If you see them, please, tell them how grateful I am, and that I'd like to see them?" Mary asked him.

"Yes, ma'am." Josiah touched his hat and left the Clarion office.

"Came to tend to your prisoner," Nathan announced as he stepped into the sheriff's office.

"About damn time you got here," Campbell complained. "I could've bled to death waiting for you."

"Shut up, you," JD ordered. "You're lucky you're getting a doctor at all. After what you did, you're damned lucky to be safe in jail instead of dangling at the end of a rope." The nineteen-year-old sheriff unlocked the cell door and let Nathan in.

"That stranger's a good shot. Bullet went clear through, didn't touch the bone. If this varmint don't take a fever, he'll be healthy enough for the territorial prison in no time," Nathan predicted. He washed the wound and bandaged it carefully.

"Prison? You ain't got proof I did nothing," Campbell protested.

"I think Billy might tell a different story," JD said.

"He's a kid. Kids lie. I didn't do nothing. He… He just pulled down his pants to pee in the alley, that's all," Campbell lied.

"The circuit judge is Billy's grandfather. Who you think he's gonna believe, you, or his grandson?" Nathan asked as he examined the bump on the man's head.

Campbell flinched and went pale. Nathan wasn't sure if it was from the goose-egg on his head he was pressing on, or learning who his victim's kin was.

"Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, hail the conquering heroes," Ezra greeted them, his green eyes twinkling, and just a touch of irony in his voice.

"You heard about this afternoon?" Heyes asked him.

"I am well acquainted with Mr. Jackson, Mr. Sanchez, and young Sheriff Dunne," the gambler replied. "Mrs. Travis – the mother of the lad you saved – has expressed a desire to meet you and tender her personal gratitude."

"Anybody would've helped a kid in trouble," Curry replied.

"Unfortunately, we live in troubled times. I regret to say not everyone would've rushed to the child's rescue." Ezra shook his head at the perfidy of modern times. He shuffled the cards as he spoke. "Five card draw?"

Heyes and Curry nodded.

"Indeed, I understand you have placed the lovely Mrs. Travis in a bit of a dilemma, torn between her maternal role and her calling as a journalist." As he dealt the cards, Ezra added by way of explanation, "Mrs. Travis owns the Clarion. As a reporter, she wants to report your heroics. As a mother, she doesn't wish to embarrass young Billy after his humiliating ordeal."

Heyes thought as he looked at his cards, debating whether anonymity would be safer, or if saving a young boy would impress the governor of Wyoming. "Two cards, please."

Several hours later, Ezra sighed and shuffled the cards a final time before putting them away. "Gentlemen, thank you for a pleasurable – if somewhat expensive – evening."

"The pleasure was all ours, Mr. Standish." Heyes gathered up their winnings.

"The pleasure and the profit," Ezra muttered. "I hope you'll give me a chance for revenge tomorrow night?"

Curry smiled. "We'll give you the chance."

June 29, 1877

An attractive blonde in her late twenties or early thirties approached the table where they were eating breakfast. "Mr. Smith? Mr. Jones?"

Both set down their forks and rose politely.

"I'm afraid you have us at a disadvantage, ma'am," Heyes said.

"I'm Mary Travis, Billy's mother. May I join you?"

"Please." Curry pulled out a chair for her.

"Thank you." Mary sat down. Once she was seated, the two ex-outlaws did likewise. "I wanted to invite you to supper tonight. I know a home-cooked meal isn't much to thank you for saving my son's life, but–"

"We'd be honored to be your guests, ma'am," Heyes told her. "After so long on the trail… A home-cooked meal is more of a treat than you might realize."

"Is there anything in particular you'd like? Something special I can make for you?" Mary offered.

"Anything you make'll be better than my partner's cooking, ma'am," Heyes assured her.

"I haven't had fried chicken in a while," Curry suggested wistfully.

"Then fried chicken it'll be, Mister– I'm sorry, I don't know which of you is which," she realized.

"Joshua Smith, ma'am," Heyes introduced himself. "My partner, Thaddeus Jones."

"Billy was very impressed with your marksmanship."

"Didn't have a choice. Had to be accurate, with a kid in danger," Curry said, brushing off the praise.

"He said you were as good as Mr. Larabee."

"Larabee? Chris Larabee?" Curry asked.

Mary nodded. "He lives here in Four Corners."

"Who is he?" Heyes asked. If it were someone who knew the Kid, they would need to move on before they were recognized.

"A gunman. Very fast, very accurate," Curry replied. "Faster than me, from what I've heard."

"Do you know him?" Heyes kept his voice casual.

Kid Curry shook his head. "Only by reputation."

Heyes let himself relax a trifle. His cousin was too smart to go looking for trouble, or to try to test himself by calling out this Larabee fellow. And if the Kid didn't know Larabee, then Larabee didn't know him.

"May I ask why you're in Four Corners?" Mary inquired.

"Just a pair of drifters, tired of drifting. We're looking for work, maybe a place to settle down if we like the town," Heyes replied. "A gentleman we met yesterday said you were the newspaper editor. Maybe you've heard if anyone is hiring?"

"What sort of work are you looking for?" she asked him.

"We can both read and write. We can both handle a gun, although Thaddeus is the better of the two of us at that. We're good with horses. We're willing to do just about anything, so long as it's honest work," Heyes said. They had several other skills – train robbing, safe cracking, demolitions, lock picking – which it seemed more prudent not to mention.

"There are some ranches outside of town. I don't know if they need any hands or not. I know Charlie Smith mentioned needing a groom at the livery stable. Are you trying to get work together?"

"We'd prefer it; been partners quite a while," Curry said.

"But if we can both get jobs in town, that'd do," Heyes added.

"I think Bert Watson may still be looking for someone to help him at the hardware store. He never did find anyone to replace Vin. You'd be better off trying the ranches, if you want to get work together," Mary suggested.

"Gentlemen." Ezra smiled up at them in greeting. "Going to give me a chance for revenge?"

Curry smiled back at him. "Actually, we liked the first half of your money so much, we thought we'd come back for the other half."

"You may certainly make the attempt," Ezra replied.

Across the saloon, Chris Larabee caught BuckWilmington's eye. He nodded at the table where Ezra sat with the strangers and slowly headed over there. Unsure what his friend had in mind, but willing to follow his lead, Buck, too, moseyed over to the card table.

"Evening, Ezra. Got room for one more?" Larabee asked. He was a tall man, dressed in black. His hair was blond, his eyes hazel-green. Although he neither said nor did anything threatening, he carried a subtle aura of menace.

"Of course, Mr. Larabee." Ezra nodded at the empty chair on Heyes' right in silent invitation.

"I'm in the mood for a game of cards myself." Buck took the seat on Curry's left. He was taller than Larabee. His skin was tanned from hours spent in the saddle. Dark hair and mustache, blue eyes, a face that was too handsome by half – it was no wonder he was popular with the ladies.

Heyes and Curry traded quick glances. Although it had been done as unobtrusively as possible, they knew they had been deliberately hemmed in.

"I'll be happy to relieve you of your money, Mr. Wilmington."

"From what I hear, this gentleman took most of your money the other night," Larabee said.

Ezra lost his smile for a moment, but only a moment. "Lady Luck is a notoriously fickle wench. I intend to win my money back, with interest. And yours, as well."

"You managed to whup Ezra at cards?" Buck grinned. "I'm right sorry to have missed that."

"I hope you're prepared to wait, sir. It may not happen again in your lifetime," Ezra warned.

Buck just chuckled.

"Have you gentlemen met?" Ezra quickly performed introductions. "Is five card draw agreeable to everyone?"

"I hear you were the one who rescued Billy Travis. Two cards," Larabee told Ezra.

"Anybody would've helped a kid in trouble. We just got there first," Heyes said modestly. "One card, please."

"Three other fellows tried to help the boy, too," Curry concurred. "I'll take two."

"You shot at Campbell with Billy in the line of fire. You stupid and lucky, or are you that good a shot?" Larabee asked.

"When you're shooting a rattlesnake, your aim needs to be good." Curry hoped Larabee wasn't worried about a possible rival.

"I understand you had dinner with Billy and his mother," Larabee continued.

Ezra glanced suspiciously at Larabee. This was more talking than the blond usually did in a week.

"One card," Buck requested.

"And dealer takes one. Jacks or better to open."

"She was kind enough to invite us over for supper, to say thank you," Heyes acknowledged.

Larabee threw a dollar in the center of the table.

"Bakes a mighty fine pie," Curry added.

"I'll see your dollar." Heyes threw in his own coins.

Buck laid his money on the table. "See your dollar and raise you a dollar."

"I hear tell you been asking around town, looking for work," Larabee went on.

"You seem to hear a lot of things," Heyes observed.

"Mr. Larabee is one of a group of men retained by the territorial judge to act as peacekeepers for our little town. As such, he considers it his responsibility to keep his eyes and ears open," Ezra explained. "Raise you five."

"See your five," said Larabee.

Curry kept his voice casual. "So, you're the sheriff, marshal, deputy, what?"

Buck shook his head. "Nothing that official."

"Makes sense," Heyes allowed, "considering your sheriff doesn't look old enough to shave."

"He'll be twenty next month," Buck told them.

The small talk dwindled down as the poker playing became more serious. The first hand went to Larabee, the second to Curry. After that, the victories alternated between Heyes and Ezra.

After raking in his winnings for the fifth time that evening, Heyes remarked, "That Mrs. Travis, she's a mighty handsome woman. Good cook, too. I'm surprised she hasn't remarried."

"Mrs. Travis is a lady, not the sort of woman who has her name bandied about in a saloon," Larabee informed him coldly.

"No disrespect intended," Heyes assured him.

June 30, 1877

Larabee walked into Watson's hardware store. He looked tough, and he oozed mean.

Heyes just smiled to himself. He'd seen such tricks before, and they didn't impress him. "Good morning, Mr. Larabee. What can I do for you?"

"Need some bullets."

"Certainly. What caliber?"

Larabee tried staring down the brown-haired stranger as he filled his order, but it didn't faze him. Smith didn't even seem to notice.

"Anything else today?" Heyes asked cheerfully.

Larabee shook his head.

The silence didn't intimidate Heyes any more than the stare had. He merely checked a price list and announced, "Two dollars and thirty-five cents."

Larabee handed him three dollars.

"And sixty-five cents change." Heyes quickly did the calculations in his head. Then he went to the cash register to ring it up.

Just then Mr. Watson, a small, bespectacled, graying man, came out of the back room. "Good morning, Chris."

"Morning, Bert. See you found someone to replace Vin."

Watson nodded. "To tell the truth, I think Vin's better at your line of work than mine."

Larabee gave him a curt nod, acknowledging the truth of his statement, and walked out without a word.

"Did I take his friend's job?" Heyes didn't let his nervousness show, but from what the Kid had said, and what he'd seen last night, he'd prefer not to get on the wrong side of Larabee.

"Vin quit two or three months before you got here. Give me a hand putting these cans up on the shelf, will you?" Watson asked. "He works with Larabee, keeping an eye on things."

As Heyes stacked canned peaches on the shelf, he decided he needed to learn more about the unofficial peacekeepers of Four Corners. Just how official was "unofficial"? How many were there, and who were they?

"Goes to figure Vin'd do better as one of Larabee's riders. Can't expect an ex-bounty hunter to settle down to work in a hardware store."

Heyes dropped a can on the floor. "Bounty hunter?"

When Heyes arrived at the saloon, Curry was already halfway through a bowl of chili. "Beginning to think Mr. Watson wasn't going to give you a lunch break. How's your first day going at the hardware store?"

"Kid, we may have made a mistake picking Four Corners. We might want to move on," Heyes suggested.

"Another bowl of chili and another beer," Curry called to the bartender. Lowering his voice, he asked his cousin, "Why? We're too far south for anyone to recognize us. The sheriff is nothing but a kid who's read too many dime novels. And that pretty Widow Travis thinks we're heroes."

"It's not the sheriff I'm worried about. It's Larabee's riders."

Curry raised an eyebrow. "Larabee's riders?"

"These regulators, peacekeepers, whatever you want to call 'em. Just found out one's a bounty hunter."

"So? He doesn't have any reason to suspect us, or to be looking for any of the Devil's Hole Gang in Arizona. And even if he did, he doesn't have a picture of us." Curry finished his chili, then drained his beer mug. "Running for no reason might make him suspicious. We sit tight, we mind our own business, we're inconspicuous. Besides, it's almost the Fourth of July. You don't want to miss the fireworks, do you?"

Heyes smiled despite his worries. In some ways, the Kid really was an overgrown kid. "No, I don't want to miss the fireworks."

Just then the bartender brought his chili and beer over.

"Thanks," Heyes said.

"I got to get back to the livery stable," Curry told him. "Eat your lunch. Try not to worry so much. I'll see you at the boarding house for dinner."

Heyes decided it would be more prudent not to mention that he was less than thrilled about sharing the same boarding house as Sheriff Dunne.

July 2, 1877

Heyes pulled out his pocket watch and checked it. "Afraid this'll have to be my last hand. Looks like you're the victor tonight, Mr. Standish."

"The evening is still young, Mr. Smith," Ezra coaxed.

Heyes shook his head. "Got to be up early for work tomorrow."

"Work." Ezra repeated the syllable disdainfully. "With your skills, sir, perhaps you should consider my profession."

"If I could ever get a big enough stake to get started properly, I might," Heyes confessed. He thought for a second of Wickenburg where, for one glorious week, he'd had the best legitimate job of his life, managing a saloon/gaming hall for an attractive but overwhelmed widow. "But, if I did, what would I do with the Kid?"

"The kid?" Ezra repeated.

Heyes bit his lip, managing – just barely – to hide his dismay at his slip. It was so easy to be relaxed and comfortable with Ezra, despite the southerner's habitual formality, he'd used Curry's nickname without thinking.

"Three years older than me, and he never lets me forget it," Curry mock-complained, covering for his cousin.

Ezra shuffled the cards. "Have you gentlemen been partners long?"

"Since the day I was born," replied Curry. "Aunt Sarah delivered me."

Ezra chuckled. "A long-term partnership indeed. Good night, sirs."

"Good night, Mr. Standish," Heyes said.

"Good night," Curry echoed.

Across the saloon, Larabee glared at Heyes and Curry as they grabbed their hats and walked out.

"What is it bothers y' about 'em?" Vin asked him. "Is it that they're friendly with Ez, an' y' don't trust anyone he trusts? Or is it that Mary thinks so highly of 'em?"

Larabee gave the long-haired tracker a dirty look. Vin's habit of reading his mind could be downright annoying at times.

"Or is it just that Smith refuses t' be bothered by the infamous Larabee glare?" Vin continued teasingly.

"Shut up and drink your beer." As the blond gunman followed his own advice, he thought over what Vin had said. Smith wasn't bothered by his glare. Vin hadn't mentioned Jones. Maybe he could put some pressure on Charlie's new groom, find out just what it was about those two that bothered him.