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.
July 3, 1877
Mary and Billy Travis were waiting when the stage pulled into town. Judge Orin Travis, a middle-aged man with gray hair, was the first to climb down from the stagecoach. He helped his wife down.
"Grandma, Grandpa!" Billy ran to hug them.
His grandfather forgot his magisterial dignity, picked the boy up, and swung him around.
"Orin, you'll make the boy dizzy," his wife Evie scolded. As soon as the judge set Billy down, she knelt to smother him in kisses.
"Easy with that box," another passenger warned the driver, who was handing luggage down. "You don't want to risk dropping it too hard, or letting it fall."
Billy broke away from his grandmother's embrace. "Are those the fireworks?"
"Billy, this is Mr. Sullivan, the pyrotechnic expert," the judge said. He was still fit, despite being nearly sixty; his iron-gray hair was as thick as it had been when it was black.
"Pi-ro-tek-nik," the boy stumbled over the strange word.
"Fireworks, son," Sullivan translated. "I'm the man who's gonna set the sky on fire in red, white, and blue flames."
The elder Mrs. Travis kissed the younger Mrs. Travis on the cheek. "You look well, Mary."
"So do you. Would you like a chance to freshen up after your trip?"
"That would be wonderful," Evie agreed.
"May I carry this for you, ma'am?" Larabee appeared out of nowhere and took her suitcase. He turned to face the judge. "JD would like to see you."
Judge Travis gave Mary a quick peck on the cheek. "I'll join you ladies as soon as I can. Mr. Larabee, please meet me at the jail in a few minutes."
JD had his feet up on his desk, a well-worn dime novel in his hands. He glanced up when the door to the sheriff's office opened, saw the judge, and nearly fell out of the chair in his haste to sit up properly. Jock Steele's Blood on the Prairie dropped to the floor.
Travis chuckled. "Hello, JD."
"Howdy, Judge," said the red-faced young sheriff.
"Is this your prisoner?" The judge approached the cell.
"Yes, sir. His name's Campbell."
"I'll have to order a change of venue," Travis announced. "I couldn't possibly be an impartial judge in this case."
"What's that mean?" Campbell demanded suspiciously.
"It means, sir, that since I want nothing better than to take a horsewhip to you, it would be highly improper for me to judge your case. I'll make arrangements to have you transported to Prescott after the holiday. Judge Bolton can hear your case."
The door opened. Chris Larabee stepped inside.
"Ah, Mr. Larabee, I was just explaining to Mr. Campbell here that a change of venue will be required. Would you be so kind as to fetch the two men who rescued Billy? We'll need depositions from them both."
"You want them both at once or one at a time?"
"One at a time, I think. Bring them over to the Clarion office. It would be better if they didn't give their testimony in front of the accused."
Larabee touched his hat and went out the door as silently as he'd come in.
He found Curry at the livery stable, applying a poultice to a strawberry roan that had been spur-galled.
"Judge wants to see you," Larabee announced.
"Me?" Curry asked, trying to sound innocent.
"Now." Larabee's tone brooked no argument.
"I can't just up and leave," Curry protested. "I just got hired a few days ago; I don't wanna get fired."
"Hey, Charlie," Larabee called.
"I'm borrowing your new hand for an hour or two. The judge needs to talk to him. That okay with you?" Larabee asked.
"If the judge needs to talk to him, I reckon so," Charlie Smith allowed reluctantly. "Send him back as soon as you can, though. These stalls ain't gonna muck themselves out."
Larabee escorted Curry to the Clarion office. Neither man spoke a word on the way.
"This is Thaddeus Jones." Larabee didn't quite push Curry through the door. "He's the one who shot Campbell."
"Judge Orin Travis," the older man introduced himself. "As Billy's grandfather, I'm grateful for what you did. As a territorial judge, I am forced to order a change of venue; it would be a conflict of interest to hear a case where my grandson was the victim. We'll need to take your deposition, to send along with Campbell."
Curry thought quickly, reevaluating his situation. He wasn't under arrest. "If I write out this deposition, then I don't need to leave town to testify?"
"It would be better if you could testify," the judge said.
With a ten thousand dollar price on his head, the last thing Jedediah "Kid" Curry wanted to do was to go into any courtroom, anywhere. His mind raced, trying to come up with a valid excuse. "I just started a new job. Don't want to lose it."
"I'll speak to your employer," the judge assured him. "Mr. Larabee, you have a clear hand. Would you please write down what Mr. Jones says? Now then, sir, tell me exactly what you saw and did."
July 4, 1877
"Did you tell Chris Larabee that your basket had a red ribbon?" Judge Travis asked his daughter-in-law.
Mary blushed, but didn't say anything.
"If Mr. Larabee doesn't buy your basket, you just make sure Billy has lunch with you. There's more than enough for three. But if it's Mr. Larabee or someone else you want to be with, then send him to eat with us," Evie said.
"Really, Mother Travis," Mary protested.
"Steven was a good man, and you were a good wife to him," her mother-in-law told her gently. "But it's time for you to get on with your life. Steven wouldn't want you to be alone."
"Are you ready to go?" the judge asked.
Mary nodded, grateful for the interruption. She took her picnic basket in one hand and took Billy by the other hand. Together with Billy's grandparents, they walked to Josiah's church. Three tables had been set up in front of the church. Dozens of picnic baskets covered the tables.
The judge stepped forward. "I've been asked to deliver a patriotic address in honor of Independence Day. However, my grandson informs me that he is hungry, and has asked me to keep it short."
The crowd laughed.
"I could happily discourse on this great nation of ours for hours. However, I'm hungry, too." The crowd laughed again. "Therefore, I will limit myself to quoting the words of our third president: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…'" His glance fell on Nathan and Ezra, standing beside each other in the crowd. "…'that they are endowed with their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"
The crowd applauded politely. Someone called out, "God bless America!"
"Amen," Judge Travis responded reverently. "Now, let's get down to what we're all here for. And remember, gentlemen, you're not just bidding on a delicious lunch, and the company of the lovely lady who made it. We're raising money for a new schoolhouse and the teacher's wages. Be generous." Travis' eyes twinkled. "Besides, the more money we raise today, the less will have to come out of your taxes later."
The judge picked up a white basket. Blue yarn was tied around the handle in a clumsy bow. "What am I bid for this lunch? You'd better have a good appetite; this one feels heavy."
Buck glanced at Nettie Wells and her niece Casey. "Fifty cents."
"Fifty cents? There's more than fifty cents' worth of food in here. Who'll give me a real bid?"
"Seventy-five cents," JD said quietly.
"Speak up, Sheriff, I couldn't hear you," said the judge.
"Seventy-five cents," JD repeated nervously, but a little louder.
"A dollar," Buck offered.
Vin called out, "Dollar fifty."
"Two dollars," JD said.
"Two dollars," Judge Travis repeated. "Do I hear any other bids?"
Buck and Vin traded glances, but kept their mouths shut.
"Sold! Come up and claim your lunch, JD."
Casey blushed as she stepped forward to meet JD.
"Don't forget, ladies, save the first dance tonight for the gentleman who buys your picnic basket." The judge turned to his wife, who handed him up the next basket. "Mmm, smells like fried chicken. If I weren't a married man, I'd bid on this one myself. Who'll bid?"
"Fifty cents," someone called out.
Ten baskets later, he picked up Mary's basket and held it high, making sure the red ribbon was clearly visible. "Who'll bid on this fine lunch?"
Larabee opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Ezra beat him to the punch. "A dollar," the gambler said.
Travis frowned at Ezra.
"Dollar fifty," Larabee countered.
"Two dollars," Heyes bid.
"Two dollars, two dollars, who'll make it two-fifty?" The judge eyed the brown-haired stranger speculatively. This was one of the men who'd helped Billy. He'd offered to buy him and his partner a steak dinner yesterday after taking their depositions, but the man had turned him down, just as his partner looked like he was about to agree.
"Two-fifty," Larabee agreed.
"Three dollars," Heyes offered.
"Five dollars," Larabee bid.
"Five fifty," Heyes said.
"Six dollars," Larabee announced.
Mary blushed, and the crowd watched in fascination as the bids went higher and higher.
"Ten dollars," Larabee said.
"Twenty dollars," Heyes doubled the bid.
"Twenty dollars," the judge repeated slowly. "Twenty dollars for this picnic basket. Do I hear any other bids?" He looked at Larabee.
The gunslinger shook his head. Twenty dollars was nearly a month's pay for a cowboy, too much for a picnic lunch, even with Mary.
"Sold." The judge handed the picnic basket to his grandson. "Billy, go have lunch with your mother."
"Ma'am, that apple pie would win awards in any county fair." Curry wiped his mouth with the napkin.
"I'm just glad I made enough for all four of us," Mary said.
"Your in-laws seemed happier with having us well chaperoned," Heyes admitted. He looked at his cousin and her son. "Two chaperons are better than one."
"Can a chaperon ask a favor, Mrs. Travis?" Curry inquired.
"What, Mr. Jones?"
"I know the first dance goes to the man who buys your picnic basket, but I'd be more than grateful if you saved the second dance for me."
"I'd be pleased to, Mr. Jones."
"I'd be grateful if you could spare me more than one dance," Heyes hinted. "Especially if one happened to be a waltz."
Seth Campbell sidled up to the jail window. "Matt, can you hear me?"
His cousin hurried to the window. "Wondered when you'd get here. The rest of the boys with you?"
"Uh-huh. We got some dynamite. When the fireworks start, we'll come break you out."
Matt nodded. "I'll be ready and waiting."
Larabee approached Curry. "You're not signed up for the marksmanship contest."
"I want to see you shoot."
Curry shook his head. The last thing he wanted was for Larabee to think he was a rival, someone trying to steal the gunslinger's reputation by outdoing the best. "I shoot when I need to, not to show-off."
"I want to know whether you were just lucky, not hitting Billy when you shot that skunk Campbell, or if you're really as good as you think you are."
"I'm as good as most. Better than some," Curry allowed.
"Let's see how good," Larabee ordered.
Seeing no graceful way out of the situation, and more than a little scared of Chris Larabee, Curry followed him to the makeshift shooting range that had been set up on the outskirts of town.
"Pistols first, gentlemen. And lady," Judge Travis added, in deference to Casey's presence. A row of bottles was set up. Everyone took turns shooting the empty bottles. Only those who could break the bottles were passed on to the next round.
Paper targets waited for the semi-finalists. JD grinned when Casey didn't get past the semi-finals, but frowned when she scored ten points higher than he did. Josiah and Nathan were also left behind.
For the final round of competition, only Larabee, Buck, Vin, Ezra, and Curry remained.
Curry meant to hold back. He meant to aim a little to the side. But when his turn to fire came, habit took over. Skills that had saved his life time and time again were too deeply engrained to set aside: he found it impossible to do less than his best.
It would be hard to say who was more annoyed that Curry won, Larabee or Curry himself.
"A masterful demonstration of marksmanship, Mr. Jones," Ezra complimented him. The gambler had come in fourth.
"I was lucky," Curry muttered.
Ezra shook his head. "In my profession, the ability to distinguish between luck and skill is a necessity. Why is a man with your skills shoveling out manure?" He remembered two days ago, when he had asked Smith a similar question.
"Be lying if I said I liked mucking out stalls. But if you're good with horses, no one tries to shoot you to see if he's better than you are. If you're good with guns…"
"Yes, I recollect Mr. Larabee mentioning an occupational hazard of being a professional shootist was young punks trying to make a name for themselves by taking out someone who already had a reputation." Ezra eyed his new friend as discreetly as possible. That was only a problem for someone who already had a reputation as a deadly shot.
Buck laughed when JD hopped past him in the sack race.
"You were young, too, once," Josiah reminded him.
Buck shook his head. "Never that young. That boy was born green."
"Ain't half as green as he used to be," the ex-priest pointed out.
John and Seth Campbell watched the young sheriff hopping along, and frowned. Then they turned their gaze to Buck and Josiah, and frowned more.
Ezra turned his gaze from Mary Travis, dancing with Kid Curry, to Chris Larabee. He looked at Mary wistfully, at Larabee with amusement. "Well, sir, it appears we are tied this evening."
The gunslinger turned to face the gambler. He raised an eyebrow.
"We are equally unfortunate in our romantic endeavors."
Larabee just hmmphed.
"Mrs. Travis hasn't sat out a dance yet," Ezra observed.
"She's a beautiful woman. Pretty girls don't sit out dances."
"Alas, you, Mr. Wilmington, Mr. Sanchez, and my unworthy self have only been favored with a single dance a piece from the fair Widow Travis. Mr. Jones is currently enjoying his second dance with her. And Mr. Smith, I believe, has been lucky enough to have claimed no less than three dances with our lovely journalist."
"You got nothing better to do than count dances?" Larabee growled.
"There is one inequality between us tonight, Mr. Larabee. I am envious of my new acquaintances. You are jealous of them." Ezra touched his hat and wandered off.
Larabee just scowled.
Ezra gracefully whirled across the dance floor, Irene Dunlap in his arms. Vin tried not to step on Nettie's feet. In the woods or the desert, tracking man or beast, he was as light on his feet as thistledown. On the dance floor…
"Hear tell you won the marksmanship contest," the old biddy said.
"Won for rifle. Came in third for pistol," he explained.
The white-haired woman glanced at her niece, who was dancing with JD. "Still can't believe that girl wore a dress tonight. That friend of yours, should I be asking him if his intentions are honorable?"
Vin chuckled. "No hurry. That boy's backward 'bout comin' forward, at least where girls are concerned." He didn't want to embarrass his friend by explaining that JD was so green he probably didn't know how to behave dishonorably with a female.
The crowd marveled as the fireworks exploded overhead. Sullivan was an expert, well worth every penny Judge Travis had paid him.
The lights flashed. The explosives boomed. The people applauded.
Heyes turned to his cousin. "That wasn't fireworks."
"Dynamite." The two of them had blown up enough bridges and banks before retiring from a life of crime to know dynamite when they heard it.
"If I were still in our old line work, I'd call this a perfect time to rob the bank," Heyes said quietly.
"Or to break Campbell out of jail," Curry suggested.
"Go find the sheriff, or any of Larabee's riders," Heyes ordered.
"Any of 'em 'cept Larabee," muttered Curry.
Despite the severity of the situation, Heyes smiled to himself as he hurried off. He didn't like Chris Larabee either.
Heyes met Buck and Ezra at the bank. He swore when he saw the hole in the bank wall. "You heard the dynamite?"
Buck nodded. "They must've figured we wouldn't hear 'em over the fireworks."
"Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner are checking out the jail. They suspected Mr. Campbell's friends might use the patriotic display overhead as a diversion for breaking him out of durance vile… as unlikely as it seems that a snake like that would have friends."
"Does he ever use two-bit words, or does he limit himself to the five-dollar ones?" Heyes asked Wilmington.
"Never a two-bit word as long as I've known him." Buck drew his guns and nodded to the others to do likewise.
"An insufficient vocabulary is a sign that one lacks a gentleman's education," Ezra muttered under his breath.
Five scruffy-looking men headed for the hole in the bank wall. David and Daniel Campbell were carrying a heavy trunk, filled with cash. Luke and Zeke Campbell each had moneybags in one hand and pistols in the other. Seth Campbell had pistols in either hand, with a saddlebag full of banknotes thrown over his shoulder.
"Hold it right there, boys," Buck ordered.
"We would be obliged, gentlemen, if you would be so kind as to place your weapons on the floor," Ezra remarked.
"And the money," Heyes added.
The Campbells were not kind. They drew their guns. However, as Ezra, Buck, and Heyes had their guns out and ready, and the Campbells merely had theirs unholstered, it was a waste of the Campbells' ammunition when they fired.
Ezra's left-hand gun shot Daniel in the shoulder. The bullet from his right-hand gun whizzed past David's ear. The twins dropped the trunk. It landed on Daniel's toe. Buck shot Seth straight through the heart, killing him instantly. Heyes shot Luke in the leg, then winged Zeke, leaving a bullet-hole and bloodstain on his sleeve.
"Put your hands up," Buck ordered.
Swearing to make a sailor blush, the Campbells reluctantly complied.
"Amateurs," Heyes muttered. "No lookout… blowing a MagnaLock 100 instead of cracking it… amateurs."
Ezra snuck a quick glance at his new friend.
"C'mon, Matt," Mark Campbell urged his older brother. "Let's get out of here!"
"The others are hitting the bank," his cousin Hiram explained.
"Hurry up," Matt's brother John ordered. "I can't hold the horses; the fireworks are spooking 'em too much."
Cousin Benjamin was too busy trying to control the horses to say anything. A blue circle exploded overhead, very loudly. The horses fled.
The Campbells ran after their mounts. Larabee and Vin ran toward the jail. Curry hurried toward the jail, then stopped when he saw Larabee. After a second's hesitation, he ran after the Campbells, too.
It took Larabee, Vin and the ex-outlaw only a moment to catch up with the Campbells. Fists flew. Boots kicked.
"Save some for me," Josiah said, joining in the fracas.
As the donnybrook eventually wound down to a close, Ezra sauntered up, jauntily whistling "The Campbells are Coming." He eyed the human debris on the street. "I see you've gotten your evening's exercise. Mr. Wilmington, Mr. Smith, and I tended to the rest of these felonious fools; they were attempting to make an unauthorized withdrawal from the bank. Mr. Jackson is ministering to their wounds, and is desirous of knowing whether his services will be required here."
Larabee looked around. His men, other than some bruises, were unharmed. Campbell and his relatives didn't seem to be seriously injured. "We're okay."
"I shall inform our colleague that once he has patched up this pervert's kinsmen, that he may return to enjoy the patriotic festivities." Ezra shook his head. "Campbells. Completely devoid of manners in 1692,** and they haven't improved since."
"Where's JD?" Larabee demanded. As sheriff, he should've been responsible for the prisoner.
"Sparkin' Casey, last I seen him," Vin replied with a grin.
July 5, 1877
Ezra saw them heading for the saloon for breakfast. "Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, may I have a moment of your time?"
Curious, the pair strolled over to the dapper gambler.
He pulled a piece of paper from inside his jacket pocket and handed it to Heyes. "As much as I have enjoyed your company, it might be best if you left town before Mr. Tanner or young Sheriff Dunne notice that this is missing from their collection."
Heyes and Curry stared at a wanted poster of themselves.
A dozen possible responses raced through Heyes' mind: denials, excuses, outright lies. Ignoring them all, he touched his hat. "Much obliged, Mr. Standish."
Ezra nodded. "I am sorry, sirs."
"So are we, Mr. Standish. So are we."
Judge Orin Travis sat down at his desk and dipped his pen in the inkwell. "Dear John," he began the letter to his old friend from law school, Governor J. W. Hoyt of Wyoming. He glanced at a wanted poster of Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. "I am pleased to report on the success on your rehabilitation experiment…"
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
* ~ *
** The Massacre of Glencoe took place in 1692, when some Campbells slaughtered some Macdonalds after accepting their hospitality.