Doubles

Magnificent Seven – Old West fanfiction

by: Jennifer Ruth (a.k.a Maven Alysse)

"What do you mean he's not dead?" the fiercely hissed whisper caused the foreman to jerk back, face paling.

"I'm sorry, ma'am. We just got word that guy you hired got himself killed instead." He winced as a flurry of curses blistered the air.

"Incompetent s.o.b." She calmed slightly, tucking a strand of auburn hair behind her ear. "Where did he catch up to the boy?"

"Four Corners, ma'am. Colorado."

"Have a carriage ready in an hour. If you want something done right, seems you have to do it yourself."

Margret Thacker peered out of the stage coach window, a frown marring her brow. How her brother's son ended up so far from home, she had no idea. No matter. Her father wished to meed his only grandson before he died. Arrangements would have to be made.

There he was. The spitting image of both his father and grandfather. Same color hair, same eyes, same grin. "Excuse me..."

He began to turn toward her, eyes widening when suddenly she leapt at him; a gun shot sounding in the air.

Chris Larabee glared at the auburn haired woman who sat huddled upon the cot within the jail cell. Nathan Jackson was in his clinic, desperately trying to remove the bullet lodged in the upper shoulder of her victim. The fright in the normally calm eyes had scared Larabee to the core. Mary Travis sat behind the desk as a reluctant chaperone. Buck Wilmington could only stare helplessly at the woman. "Why? Why did you do it?"

"Needed to die. Needed to die. Daddy was gonna give away all his money. None for me. None for me. What could I have done? Needed to die. Needed to die." The woman's low voice repeated the mantra, sending a shiver through them all.

Josiah Sanchez strode into the room. "Brothers, Sister, it appears that the good Lord is smiling upon us. Brother Nathan was able to get the bullet out and everything looks good as long as there are no complications." The tension in the room relaxed a notch. Sanchez turned to the woman, misery clearly etched on her face. "Now, ma'am. Would you care to tell us why you shot your own sister?"

Brianna Major's head snapped up, blue eyes blazing. "She wasn't supposed to be here. He'd be dead if she hadn't been here. It's his fault! It's his fault!" At their surprised looks she laughed, an ugly reed-thin sound. "Daddy loved his son. Said nobody was better than his Michael. Was so proud when he became a lawman. I knew he'd left everything to Michael. Nothing for us girls. Nothing, nothing. Had to change that. Michael had an accident." Her voice took on a sing-song quality. "Oops. No more Michael. That shoulda been the end of it. Found out my oh, so perfect brother had gotten married, had a brat. Daddy changed his will. But not to us. Not to me. Oh, no. Family name had to remain good, had to remain strong. Brat was named heir. So I went looking. Came close. Came so close. Only the wife had died and the brat had disappeared. Tried to convince Daddy the kid was dead. But no. He had to have proof." Her ramblings slowed to a mutter and she stared at her hands that lay twisting in her lap.

Horrified looks were exchanged. Mary's hand had risen to cover her mouth. Ezra Standish walked in, his normally unreadable face twisted in rage and disgust. In one hand he carried the woman's suitcase where he'd appropriated it from her hotel room. With the other, he held a sheath of papers. "Mr. Larabee. I do believe that I have something of great importance to this and prior situations." He thrust the papers at Larabee, his hands shaking in his fury. Oh, how he wished he could tear that pitiful excuse of a human being limb from limb. As if somehow sensing this, Sanchez lay a gentle hand on the conman's shoulder.

"Ey, Ezra. How's JD?" Wilmington asked both out of concern for the young man and as a way to refocus the trembling gambler.

Ezra brushed off Sanchez's hand and straightened his clothing. "Mr. Dunn is resting comfortably. He has merely twisted his knee and will be required to remain off it for a week. I left him in the highly capable hands of our Mr. Tanner."

No one noticed as Brianna Major stilled at the name, listening intently.

"How is Vin doing?" Mary Travis asked, her voice tinged with concern for the young tracker.

Ezra frowned, his face expressing his own concern. "Other than questioning our healer on the condition of Mrs. Thacker, he has said nothing. There is something weighing heavily on him that he has not deemed himself ready to share with anyone else. Perhaps he is upset that he is the cause of JD's injury – falling onto him the way he did, though through no fault of his own."

Larabee's expression became darker, both from the thread of the conversation as well as the material he was reading. Before he could say anything however, the jail door opened and Vin Tanner stalked in like an avenging angel, eyes blazing and face pale with fury. Ignoring the others, he moved over to the cell, stopping a few feet from the bars. "Yer sister's going ta be fine. No thanks to you. Now, I don't k now why she jumped in front of that bullet like that, but I think yer gonna tell me now why you tried to kill me." His voice was cold and lethal, his eyes mere slits as he stared contemptuously at the woman in the cell. He didn't take kindly to being shot at and having innocents hurt because of it made his blood boil.

Mrs. Major rose to her feet, her expression a mixture of rage, confusion and awe. "Why won't you die?" she asked softly. "When Daddy found out about you, he was so excited. He wanted to meet you." She paused, head cocked and blue eyes narrowed. "Yer momma died of the fever, but you didn't catch it. The orphanages were horrible, foster families worse, but you survived. Thought you finally died in that orphanage fire, only to find out you somehow escaped. That tribe of red skins who took ya in were slaughtered, but you survived. Even that no good Eli Joe couldn't do the job he was paid to do. And now, my own sister saves your life. Why won't you just DIE?" The last was said in a shriek as she threw herself against the bars, reaching through them, grasping at him, cursing.

Vin didn't move, his face set like stone, though the others could see the ashen features and minute trembling in his limbs.

They realized this woman had kept tabs on Vin his entire life, had known about him and what he had gone through. Not only had she never once offered any help, by her own admission she had tried to have him killed, and seemed manic over the idea that he still lived.

Larabee clenched his fists, so close to pulling his gun and shooting her. Wouldn't it be a mercy? Like putting a rabid dog down. Ezra growled low in his throat, outraged for his friend but helpless to do anything for him other than just be there for support. Wilmington shook his head disgustedly, one eye on the man he considered his best friend, the other on the trembling young man who looked like he was going to crumble right in front of him. Josiah reached out and laid a gentle hand on Vin's arm. That touch galvanized the Texan. Vin pulled his arm from the preacher's grasp taking a half-step forward. His mouth opened only to snap shut without uttering a word. He spun on his heel, ignoring the woman's continued ranting and exiting the jail, feeling the need for fresh air as urgently as any drowning man.

At the base of the steps, he nearly crashed head long into a figure, barely managing to get out of the way. Wide blue eyes were set in a pale face, framed by long auburn hair. Tears streamed down her face, instantly catching Vin's attention and sympathy. "Miss Margret!" He gently grasped her elbow and helped her to a bench. "Does Nate know yer out? You'll bust them stitches if yer not careful."

"Oh, Vin, I'm so sorry. So terribly sorry. I had no idea that Brianna was like this."

Vin realized that Mrs. Thacker had heard most, if not all of the conversation through the open window. Idly, he wondered who else knew. She still had him by the arm, giving him no choice but to sit down beside her. Awkwardly, he patted her hand, still wanting to get away from this woman and her twin who both seemed to want something from him. "What do you want with me?"

He was unaware that he spoke aloud until the woman heaved a sigh. "Oh, sweetie. We don't want anything from you. Well..." she trailed off, clutching her arm as a spasm of pain shot through her. He twined his fingers with hers, silently encouraging her to squeeze tight. Her knuckles went white for a moment, then relaxed as the pain receded. She chuckled weakly. "I had practiced this moment in my mind countless times, but the reality is never the same, is it?" She did not wait for a reply. "My younger brother was Michael Francis Tanner." She felt him start and gave a reassuring pat on his hand. "I, and Brianna, are your aunts. My father, your grandfather, Michael Kevin Tanner, has been searching for you ever since he discovered you'd disappeared after your mother's death. Your grandfather never believed that you had died, but became ill shortly after from the stress. When Brianna offered to look for you, we never knew it was for this."

He was silent for so long she feared he wouldn't talk to her at all. "How?" he broke off, clearing his throat self-consciously. "So, how did you know where I was?"

Margret smiled, her face lightening despite the pain. "Jock Steele is a very popular writer. One of my boys showed me his latest dime novel: the Magnificent Seven. I recognized you. You look just like your father."

Uncomfortable, he tried to shift the topic. "You have kids?"

A shadow passed behind her eyes and Vin cursed himself for touching upon a sore subject. "No. Unfortunately, I am unable to have children. So, I turned to teaching," Her eyes shone. "It's been a life saver."

He smiled back, then coaxed her to her feet. "Come on, Miss Margret. Let's get you back to Nathan's, or he'll skin me alive."

She heard the teasing in his voice and allowed him to escort her across the street, though she could see he was still shell shocked by all the revelations. He slowly and gently led the older woman back to the clinic and settled into bed. "So what now?"

She could see the uncertainty in his blue eyes, so like his father's and her own. "That would be up to you. Your grandfather has waited a long time to meet you and I know you'd make an old man happy if you could see him just once before he died."

He hung his head, chestnut hair hiding his face. "Ain't too sure he'd be so fired up ta meet me. I ain't ... I haven't..." he stuttered to a stop.

"Don't." She covered his hand with her own and waited till he looked up at her. "You are a Tanner. And everything I've seen and been able to find out about you has proven to me that you have upheld the Tanner name in every way possible."

He stared at her. The intensity would have made a lesser person flinch, but she was a Tanner, too – inner strength and tenacity were ingrained to the bone. With a shy grin, he nodded, accepting her word and his place within the family without another word of protest.

Nathan Jackson returned to the clinic, unconsciously letting out a sigh of relief to find Mrs. Thacker back in bed and Vin sleeping slumped in a chair next to her. He nearly had a heart attack when JD came hobbling into the Saloon where he was trying to get a bite to eat, yammering on about how Mrs. Thacker had left the clinic. By the time Nathan could figure out what JD was talking about and rushed out into the street, he'd been held up by Chris who explained some of what had happened earlier.

"Vin took Mrs. Thacker back to the clinic, he'll keep an eye on her. I need your help on something." Leaving JD to watch the prisoner, and promising to fill him in later, the rest went to the Clarion.

Mary had the materials spread out on the desk. She looked up from studying them when the men entered. Several letters and old telegrams vied for space along with a journal. The newspaper woman had spent her time reading and organizing the missives into some kind of chronological order. She was pale, but her face was composed and her voice calm as she reported her findings. "According to these, and what occurred today, Mrs. Major has been responsible for a least three attempts on Vin's life." She shot a glance at Larabee, suddenly glad her son was visiting his grandparents this week. The sight on an enraged Larabee was one she hoped to spare her child. "She apparently had her brother killed so that her father would include her in the will and not leave her penny-less. When they discovered that her brother had gotten married and had a child, they looked for both. By the time the homestead was found, Julia Tanner had died and no one knew where Vin ended up." She paused, then plunged on. "Nearly a year later, Brianna found Vin, but did nothing for four years, hoping that time would make her father forget. However, it says in this journal that her father recovered enough to begin his own inquiries and when the private investigator got too close..." she swallowed, voice shaking slightly. "She had the orphanage burned down." She waited, head bent as the men vented their anger and disbelief.

It was Nathan who recovered first and placed a comforting hand on Mary's shoulder. "Please continue, Mrs. Travis." The others quieted, apologizing.

She nodded gratefully before going on. "She tracked him down a few months later. He was living with a tribe of Comanches. Says here she didn't dare try anything, so she left him alone. Four years later, the Army wiped the tribe out. Only a few survived the massacre. He pulled a stint in the Army himself and Brianna lost track of him for a while before learning he was with another Indian tribe. This time it was Kiowas. Again, she couldn't do anything, but I guess she hoped her father would finally give him up for dead. But he was very tenacious." Some of the men grinned, recognizing a family trait.

"After the tribe got displaced and sent to a reservation, Vin turned to bounty hunting. Apparently, the grandfather got word of Vin and sent out another investigator. Brianna hired Eli Joe to take care of the 'problem' but the man messed up and instead framed Vin for murder. She just learned the Eli Joe had been killed." Mary stopped, her hands fluttering among the evidence that could lift the burden of a bounty from the young tracker's shoulders.

For several long minutes no one said anything, each lost in their own thoughts. "I believe that these should be placed somewhere of the utmost security. Mrs. Travis, if you would collect said material and accompany me, we shall soon have them safely stored within the safe in my room. That is, if Mr. Larabee has no objections." Ezra Standish stood beside the desk, his eyes never wavering from his leader.

Larabee stared hard at the conman, then gave a curt nod, his message clear – if anything happened to the evidence there wouldn't be enough of Standish for a cockroach to sneeze on. Mary began to gently collect the papers, now terrified she would tear them.

"Buck, go to the telegraph office and wire the Judge. See if he can come immediately." Wilmington nodded, snapping off a quick salute before dashing out of the building. "Josiah, will you bring JD up to speed? I don't want him to get any idea bout letting the lady out if she tried a sob story on him. I'm not quite sure she's as crazy as she's making out."

"Very well, brother." The large preacher nodded to Mary and left as well.

"Nathan?"

"I'll check on Mrs. Thacker and you can talk to Vin."

Blue eyes snapped open, zeroing in on the two men standing in the doorway. "Boys." Vin Tanner straightened up, an unreadable expression on his face.

"How is she?" Nathan went over to the bed, lying a hand on his patient's forehead. Her color was good and there was no fever.

"Doing good. She fell asleep a bit ago." Tanner watched as Nathan checked the wound, replacing the bandage. "She didn't bust the stitches?"

"Nope. She was lucky, though. Darned fool way to go treating an injury."

Vin ignored the healer's muttering, aware by now that he was merely relieving tension. Instead, he focused on the black-clad figures still standing in the doorway. "Cowboy."

"Let's take a walk." Chris jerked his head to indicate he wanted to talk and felt Vin would be more comfortable if he could move around.

With another glance at the sleeping woman, the tracker rose smoothly and preceded Larabee out of the room and down to street level. The two headed for the stables. "Reckon you know?"

"Yup."

"Boys?"

"Yup."

Tanner eyed his friend. He could tell there was something else, something real important, but Vin figured it could wait until he'd run off some of the nervous energy that seemed to fill him.

The two men saddled their horses and, still silent, headed out of town. It was nearly a half hour later before Vin pulled up and nodded towards a quiet fishing hole the two sometimes used to get away from town for a while. They let their horses drink and Vin settled his long-limbed frame down on the grass, pushing his hat off his head to let it hang by it's strap around his neck.

Chris pulled some jerky from his saddlebag, tossed some to his friend and settled down himself. "We can clear your name." He waited for some type reply but Tanner merely looked at him, his stare intense. "Mrs. Major kept a diary. She hired Eli Joe to kill you, only he framed you for murder instead."

"Why?"

"She was afraid that if you were alive her father would continue to cut her from his will."

Vin nodded, accepting the reason just as he had accepted Miss Margret's answer. "What if she refused to talk to Judge Travis?" He knew that as soon as Chris knew what he had, he'd mobilize the boys to get things done.

"Won't matter. The diary and other letters will prove without a doubt that you are innocent."

For the first time that day, Vin let a full fledged smile cross his face. It was soon matched by Larabee's.

Circuit court Judge Orrin Travis stepped off the boardwalk to join the two men waiting for him outside the jail house. "Mr. Larabee. Mr. Tanner."

"Judge." Chris shook his hand while Vin touched two fingers to the brim of his hat.

"What's going on, boys?" He fell into step with them, knowing his luggage would be delivered to the Clarion without incident.

"We came across some evidence and before we proceeded any further we wanted to make sure there was no way to dismiss it in court."

"What form of evidence?"

"Diary. Couple of letters and telegrams."

"And, based of your knowledge and experience, the evidence indicates what?"

"Murder, conspiracy to murder, attempted murder three times, the illegal hiring of an assassin, aiding and abetting a known fugitive."

"Don't forget what we saw which brought the rest o' that stuff out inta the light: firing a weapon in city limits, reckless endangerment and assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill."

"Do you have the criminal in custody?" Larabee nodded. "Who is he? Has he said anything? Who did he try to kill?"

"Her name is Mrs. Brianna Major. She shot her sister, Mrs. Margret Thacker, but she was aiming for Vin."

Travis ground to a halt, eyes wide with surprise. "Vin? Why?"

"Seems I got some family that's been lookin' for me a long time. Looks like at least one of them hoped I'd stay lost."

Slightly dazed, Judge Travis followed the two men down to the jail house. Shaking his head, he refocused, firing off questions and listening intently to the answers while the peacekeepers brought him up to speed.

He interviewed the prisoner. She refused to answer any of his questions. Although she rocked gently back and forth, and had a blank look on her face, she did not strike the Judge as being quite as detached of her surroundings as she appeared. He agreed, however, that the written evidence would be more than enough to convict her and clear Tanner's name.

Margret Thacker was recovering nicely. Not able to ride just yet, she was well enough to stroll about town as long as she kept her arm in a sling. It soon became a common sight to see Mrs. Thacker and Vin Tanner sitting together.

Sometimes they talked. Mostly about Vin's father and what he had been like as a child. "Oh, he was a wild one, he was. Would rather be out than in – always taking off for a few days out in the wilderness. Taught himself how to hunt, track and fish." She looked over, seeing the sparkle in her companion's eye. "Guess he passed down that love of freedom." She started laughing, "I remember, one time. Oh, he must have been eleven or twelve, and he brought home a bobcat kitten that had injured itself. Mom about had a fit, but daddy just grinned, showed him how to help the kit and when it was well, took it out far enough so it could rejoin it's own family."

Sometimes, they sat in companionable silence, just watching the town go by. It reminded Vin of the times spent with Chris and he wondered, 'Is this what family's about?'

A rowdy group of cowhands carousing at the Saloon after payday set the scene for disaster. Unwilling to allow a lady, no matter how corrupt or damaged, to have to be subjected to whatever form of lewdness the drunkards may try to expose her to, Mrs. Major was removed from the jail and placed under house arrest in one of the hotel rooms. Mary Travis appointed herself as Mrs. Major's chaperone for the evening.

Sometime during the night, Major overpowered Mary Travis using torn bed sheets as make-shift ropes and a gag. Brianna finished the last knot, thinking carefully. She had maybe half an hour before one of the Seven checked on them. She'd overheard the Judge and the fancy gentleman mention putting her things in a safe place – the gambler had mentioned his room. She didn't have time to search each room. 'Guess I'll just have to burn the place down.' She shrugged to herself a gleam in her eye. She did so love fire. The way it sparkled and flared, the popping and hissing it made, how it cleansed everything in its path. 'And if any of those peacekeepers get caught in the blaze, hoorah!'

She collected a lantern and tied a length of sheet to it, gently lowering it to the ground. Then, ignoring her skirts, she climbed out the window, using a gutter to clamber down. She ghosted to the back of the building, grinning to herself at the pile of discarded wooden crates that lay near the back door. 'Perfect.'

Taking aim, she smashed the lantern against the woodpile. The kerosene spread, encompassing the wood in a blaze of bright light. She waited long enough to ensure the building caught, mesmerized by the flames, then took off down the alley, hoping she wasn't seen.

The blaze was noticed and an alarm quickly went out and a bucket brigade was formed. From down the street, Brianna could see the townsfolk pour out of buildings in various states of dress.

Brianna ran to the stables and into the stall of the first horse she saw. The large black with the white blaze on its forehead stared at her suspiciously. Snorting, it sidestepped her twice before she was able to put a bridle on it. Cursing, she punched its side as she cinched the strap of the saddle – causing it to stop filling its stomach with air. It tried to step on her twice and nearly crushed her between its weight and the side of the stall. "Why your owner hasn't turned you into glue by now is beyond me. Come on, mule. Move it." She guided it out of the stables and into the street, intent on getting out of town before she was missed.

A figure in buckskins crossed the road headed toward the hotel. A red haze fell over Brianna's vision and she urged the horse into a gallop, heading for the object of her hatred. His back was to her and he'd never hear her over the commotion of the townfolks' efforts to put out the blaze.

She was almost on top of him when suddenly, the horse broke stride, sidestepping her target and tossing his rider off. A scream echoed as Brianna flew off the horse head-long into one of the porch poles that held the overhanging up.

A couple people left the bucket line to rush over to the sprawled figure. Vin grabbed hold of Peso's reigns – the horse was loyal to him and would never deliberately run him over. The tracker watched, blank-faced, as Brianna Major's body was rolled over. The awkward angle of her head clearing showing a broken neck. Blue eyes, so like his own, stared blankly upward before a kind-hearted citizen closed them. Nathan was called for and the gentle healer shook his head sadly. There was nothing he could do.

Brianna Majors was dead.

Vin Tanner – who prided himself on always being aware of his surrounding – found the rest of the night a blur. Only bits and pieces were clear: mechanically returning Peso to his stall, helping put the fire out, comforting Miss Margret when she was told of her sister's death, discovering the papers and documents had some smoke damage to them but were still legible, being given a drink at the Saloon. His friends, his family, were around him – but he felt distant and alone. He wanted to head out of town, but there was no moon and he wouldn't risk injuring Peso over his need to get his head straight. So he did the next best thing and headed for the rooftops.

A breeze tugged at his hair and clothes, heralding false dawn. He'd been up here, on the roof of Josiah's church, for nearly four hours and he planned to see the new day in from that spot.

Sanchez had once asked him why he chose such a precarious spot. With an impish grin, he'd replied, "This is the highest building in town, Josiah." At the preacher's confused look, the young man added, "Didn'tcha say we had to find our own place where we were closest to God?" Josiah had thrown his head back in laughter and never commented again on the odd habit.

Vin's thoughts were clearer now. The woman who had caused so much pain in his life was dead, leaving behind enough evidence to finally prove his innocence. He would very soon no longer be a wanted man. To add to that, he had family. People who had never stopped looking for him and praying to finally find him after all these years. A hole he hadn't even been aware of filled with warmth at the notion. Once Judge Travis gave him the okay, he'd see about visiting with his grandfather.

The sun crested the horizon, it's rays caressing the earth like a lover. Each edge was gilded in gold as the shadows retreated from the dawn. Vin turned his face to the sun, allowing its warmth to banish the last of the evening's chill, then rose to face the future.

End