Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: these aren't my characters (except for Kid Durango). I'm just borrowing them from the movie Ghost Rider and the TV show Magnificent Seven. They will be returned to their original owners, relatively undamaged, after the story....unless their actual copyright holders don't want them, in which case I'll happily take them off their hands! Originally published in Neon RainBow Press' Vin-centric fanzine, Woolley to the Bone #7.

The Devil's Bounty Hunter

Susan M. M.

For Woolley to the Bone #7

Magnificent Seven/Ghost Rider

Carter Slade rode his horse into Four Corners, Arizona Territory. The ex-Texas Ranger tied up his black gelding in front of the Standish Tavern, then walked through the batwing doors into the saloon. He walked up to the bar, ordered a whiskey, and looked around, examining the saloon's patrons.

Rumor traveled faster through the west than messages over the telegraph wire. Slade had heard of the seven men who guarded Four Corners. He turned his gaze on each one in turn, looking not only at the men, but into their souls.

Chris Larabee: still wearing the black of mourning years after the death of his wife and son, despite the heat of Arizona. Soldier, horse breeder, hired gun, protector.

Buck Wilmington: skirt chaser, ex-lawman, ex-cowboy, ex-soldier.

Vin Tanner: tracker, buffalo hunter, bounty hunter, wanted man.

Nathan Jackson: runaway slave, healer.

JD Dunne: too many dime novels had created a false picture of the Wild West for him, but reality had kicked him in the face. Still too naïve by half, but learning. Sheriff only because those better qualified refused the badge.

Ezra Standish: con man, charpsharp, bon vivant, who was discovering a sense of honor and duty he'd never dreamed he might possess.

Josiah Sanchez: former preacher, son of a bible-thumping missionary, a man who'd sampled and abandoned several denominations, whose spiritual investigations ranged from time spent in a Roman Catholic seminary to years spent with a Cherokee shaman. A man who'd spent years with a whiskey bottle as his best friend.

Stained souls, all of them. Some more tarnished than others, especially Larabee and Standish. None of them pure, though Dunne and Jackson came close. They'd all killed their fellow men, sometimes in self-defense, sometimes for a cause, sometimes for a fee. Slade scanned the room again, his eyes moving from one to another of the seven. All of them, despite their character flaws and past misdeeds, were more clean than dirty. All of them were trying to make things better in Four Corners. Beneath the tarnish, the light shone through bright and clear. And that meant that none of them were his concern. He finished his whiskey.

Josiah Sanchez looked at Slade, feeling his eyes upon him. A shiver ran down his spine, although he didn't know why.

At the corner table, Vin Tanner nudged Chris Larabee. "Y'see that feller over there, the one with the deerskin jacket? Ah think Ah recognize him from mah bounty huntin' days."

Chris raised one blond eyebrow in silent inquiry.

"Ah think that's Kid Durango."

"Kinda old to be Kid anything," Larabee retorted. The man Vin had indicated was in his mid-to-late forties. Blue eyes peered out from a face that was tanned and wrinkled from years in the sun and years of hard living. His light brown hair was in need of a visit to the barber.

"If it is Durango, he's been robbin' stagecoaches and trains since before Ah was born," Vin explained.

Slade rose from his bar stool and walked over to the table where Kid Durango was sitting alone, nursing a beer.

"Ain't in the mood for company, mister," Durango informed Slade.

"You got a debt come due. Ready to pay up?" Slade asked.

Durango started to reach for his gun, but Slade just shook his head.

"Don't even think about it," Slade advised. "I can be killed, but not by you, not when I'm on his errands."

Durango removed his hand from the six-shooter. "Guess that's a fight I can't win."

Slade nodded.

"Can you give me twenty-four hours? There's somebody I rid a long way to come see."

"Sorry, I don't write the contracts. Your time's up. You can come along peaceful-like, or you can make a big noisy fuss. But either way, you're coming with me."

"One favor. That long-haired feller over there, can you tell me if he's headed on my path?" Durango asked.

Slade turned to take another look at Vin. "Nope. I can't predict the future, but if he keeps going the way he's going, he's headed Up, not Down, when his time comes."

"Good enough." Durango drained his beer mug. "Let's take this outside. I'd rather he didn't see."

Slade nodded, and rose from his chair. Durango did likewise. The two of them walked outside. They headed for the rear of the saloon.

"Ain't seen him since he was three," Durango said, trying to control the lump in his throat, failing to keep the fear out of his voice. "That's when his mamma left me. She couldn't stand what I'd become. She wouldn't believe me when I told her I turned road agent for her sake, for her and the young'uns."

Slade just nodded. Some men got chatty when their time came, as if they could postpone paying up when the contract came due if they just talked enough.

"After our firstborn died 'cuz we couldn't afford the doctor, I said I'd do anything to provide for my family. Just my bad luck he heard me."

"Robbing folks already had you started on his path. And once you're on his path, he listens and watches real hard, eager to push you further on down the road to Down Below," Slade explained. He looked Kid Durango in the eye. "Arthur Tanner, twenty-five years ago you made a deal with the Devil. No bullet could touch you. No posse could catch you. Did he keep his end of the deal?"

Durango nodded.

Suddenly Carter Slade transformed. His head became a burning skull. He looked into Durango's blue eyes, and into his soul. "Your soul is stained. Your life and your soul are forfeit to the Devil."

Durango stiffened. His lifeless body fell to the ground. Slade, the Devil's bounty hunter, gestured with a burning hand. Flame enveloped the body, consuming it completely. From out of nowhere, a wind arose and blew the ashes away.

Slade took a deep breath, and resumed his human form. "Easier for his son if he doesn't have to find the body."

"Getting sentimental on me, Slade?"

Slade looked up sharply. He recognized that voice. It belonged to the stranger he'd made a deal with when he was on the gallows … the stranger he'd come to know all too well over the years. "Nossir."

"Got an errand for you in Texas. Need you to ride to a little town called San Venganza ," the Devil announced.

"Yessir." The ghost rider walked wearily to the front of the saloon, mounted his black gelding, and rode off into the night.

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Author's Note: see what happens when your husband insists on renting Ghost Rider?