Title: Chuck vs. the Wildcat 1/?
Summary: It's the 1870s in the American Southwest. Charles "Chuck" Bartowski, after avenging the death of his sister, falls in with gunslinger John Casey. There's a range war in El Dorado, and Chuck finds himself on one side of the war. And on that side is a woman named Sarah Walker.
Disclaimer: I don't own Chuck or El Dorado. No copyright infringement intended.
Author's Note: Don't worry that I'm giving up on Discovering Omaha; this plot bunny just grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go. This is inspired by the Western movie El Dorado. No knowledge of that movie is needed to enjoy this fic. And I hope you enjoy it!
Chapter One: In Sunshine and In Shadow
For five years, he had been hunting for the three men who had killed his sister. He had come home to find Ellie's blood splattered all over the porch, and the three men that did it standing over her. They were dirty and scrawny, still drunk from the night before when they had been looking for food and lodgings at the inn run by Ellie and himself. He had turned them down, doubting they had the money for the rooms. Angry words had been exchanged, and it had taken him pulling his knife, and the muscles of Ellie's fiancee, to scare them off. But they had come back for revenge on them, and they took it out on his sister.
His sister's death had changed the life of Charles Irving Bartowski, known as Chuck. He had caught up with two of the men already, and tonight . . . tonight, he'd finish this.
He adjusted the hat that had been his father's, pushing it down on his curls, and walked into the saloon. He hooked his thumbs into the pockets of his trousers, taking in the room. There were several tables, filled with whites and Mexicans eating food, playing poker or dominoes, or listening to the mariachi music. And at the table right by the door was the man he was looking for.
Chuck swallowed and stepped up to the table. "Justin Sullivan."
The thin, squirrelly-looking man looked up. "What? You talking to me?"
"I am," Chuck said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a golden, heart-shaped locket. "Do you recognize this?"
"What you saying about me, thinkin' I'd recognize a trinket like that?" Justin looked at his buddies, who laughed as if on cue.
Chuck waited out their laughter, his face deadly serious. "You killed the woman wearin' it."
That silenced the restaurant. The band stopped playing, and he noticed a few ladies being shooed out of the room.
"Happened in California, out near San Diego Bay. Her name was Ellie Faye Bartowski, and you and two of your buddies, you attacked her. An innocent woman. She fought, but she couldn't take three grown men," Chuck said, his eyes locked on Justin's. "And it wasn't even for money. You killed her just for fun."
"She was an old hag," Justin spit out. "Thought she was somethin', with her big house . . ."
"No, no, she was beautiful. Beautiful and young, with her whole life in front of her," Chuck said, his blood boiling at the insults. "So you remember her. The other fellows did, too, eventually." He tucked the necklace back into his pocket. "Now stand up."
Justin looked confused. He looked at the man to his right, a black man with an air of command about him. "Stand up, Justin. He doesn't have a gun. And after all, it shouldn't have taken three of you."
Chuck felt his palms sweat a little, but he stood very still, waiting for Justin to stand. The other man slowly rose to his feet, facing Chuck with a smirk on his face.
Justin reached for his gun, but Chuck was faster. With lightning-fast relaxes, he whipped his knife from the holder on his back, throwing it at Justin. It struck him dead in the chest, and with a soft gurgle, he dropped to the floor.
And with that, Chuck felt a numbness settle over him. He'd done it. He'd avenged Ellie's death. He walked over to Justin, whose face was frozen in a wide-eyed mask, and crouched down to pull out his knife.
Chuck turned a little, still kneeling by the body.
A middle-aged, hard-looking man stood there. "You killed Justin because he killed your friend, right? Well, Justin was a good friend of mine."
Chuck felt a chill go down his spine.
"Let's see if you can do that trick twice!" the stranger cried, reaching for his gun.
Before Chuck could even lift his knife, a gunshot rang out, knocking the gun out of the stranger's hand. He turned his head and saw a bear of a man rising to his feet, his gun out.
"I'd let it go," the bear said in a deep voice. He reached down and roughly pulled Chuck to his feet.
The black man gestured to Justin's friend. "Clyde, stand down."
Clyde glared at the black man. "Got a lot of faith in me, huh, Ty?"
Ty shrugged elegantly. "Faith can't beat a faster draw." He looked at the stranger who had rescued Chuck. "Only man I've ever seen who could draw down faster than me. You wouldn't happen to be John Casey, would you?"
The only answer he got was a grunt. Ty nodded. "Thought so." He looked at Chuck, then at John Casey. "I can't afford to lose any more men. I've got a job in El Dorado, and I guaranteed a certain number of hands."
Casey nodded. "We'll move out. Enjoy your meal." He holstered his gun and dragged Chuck out onto the dusty, dimly-lit street.
Chuck swallowed. "I-I need to thank you."
"You know anyplace to eat around here?"
"Huh?" Chuck asked, shaking his head. He felt unsteady, between finishing his five-year plan and the adrenaline from nearly dying. He didn't know what he was going to do now, and this stranger didn't seem like somebody who could give him answers.
"Your little show interrupted my dinner. And neither of us are welcome there now. So, you got any bright ideas?"
On the list of the worst ideas that Chuck had ever heard, keeping this man from food was high on the list. "Uh . . . I ate at a cantina down the street earlier."
Casey went to the hitching post and took the reins of a spotted pinto that was just as large as its rider. "Let's go, then."
Chuck nodded and quickly unhitched his own horse, leading the way. The cantina was deserted now, but the Mexican woman who ran it quickly cooked up a mess of food for them.
He sipped some coffee, watching Casey devour the food. What would he do now? He knew that going after her murderers was probably the last thing that Ellie would have wanted him to do. But he couldn't be like Devon, accepting that her killers would never see justice.
"What's your name, kid?"
Chuck looked at Casey. "Charles Irving Bartowski."
"Holy Christ," Casey said.
"Yeah, I know," Chuck said with a grin. "Most people call me Chuck."
Casey nodded. "Sister, mother or wife?"
His confusion must have shown, because Casey clarified. "The woman that those guys killed. Sister, mother or wife?"
"Oh. My sister."
"Thought so," Casey grunted. "What are you gonna do now?"
Chuck shrugged. "Don't know. Spent five years hunting down her killers, and now . . ."
"Gonna go back to California?"
"There's nothing for me there," he said.
"Then lemme give you two pieces of advice, kid," Casey said. "Get rid of the curls, learn how to shoot a gun."
"Only way to get rid of the curls is to shave my head. It's not a good look on me."
Casey grunted. "And the gun?"
"Ellie-my sister-she didn't hold with guns," Chuck said. "It was all I could do to get her to allow me learning how to throw knives."
"She's dead," Casey said. "Think about that."
Chuck looked at Casey, his eyes narrowed. "I'm fine with the knives."
Casey grunted. That seemed to be his default reply. "Your funeral, kid." He picked up his battered cowboy hat and left some money on the table. "Good luck to you."
"You-where are you off to?" Chuck found himself asking.
"Gonna check in with a friend of mine. Sheriff in El Dorado," Casey said. The tone of his voice brooked no questions, but Chuck got the sense that there was a long history between Casey and his friend. One that was complicated. He wondered if it had anything to do with that man from earlier saying he had a job in El Dorado.
"You wouldn't want some company, would you?" He wasn't sure why he was asking to go along, but . . . but he didn't know what else to do.
"Nope," Casey said succinctly. He set his hat on his head and strode out into the night.
Chuck slumped down in his chair. Now he really didn't know what he was going to do.
Then, an idea came into his head. It was probably crazy-no, it was really crazy. But what else was he going to do? Sitting up, he quickly thanked the woman who ran the cantina, leaving her some extra money. He crammed his hat on his head and stepped outside, going straight to his horse.
Chuck navigated his horse, which he had named Newton, over the rocky slopes. He had picked up Casey's trail this morning, keeping back so he wouldn't be spotted. He lost sight of him when Casey got a bit ahead of him, and Chuck picked up the pace a little. When he crested a hill and looked down into a small valley, he saw Casey's riderless horse, and a man laying on the ground beside it.
What had happened to him?
"Casey ! John Casey!" he yelled, hoping that he wasn't dead.
Even before the words were out of his mouth, Casey was slowly coming to his feet. "What the hell? You about lost your head!"
Chuck hurried his horse as fast as prudence allowed down into the valley. When he reached Casey, the other man glared at him.
"You should know better'n followin' a man."
"I do now," Chuck said. "Hey, did you fall off your horse?"
"Yeah," Casey said testily, as if warning Chuck not to ask. But he ignored the warning.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine." Casey fussed with the reins of his horse, his movements stiff.
"Something's not right with you, though," Chuck said, not sure why he was pushing this man who could kill him without breaking a sweat.
Casey shrugged. "I've got a bullet in my back. Sometimes it pushes against somethin', and I get this pain and then nothing and I can't use my right hand."
Oh. Casey used his right hand to shoot a gun. And he was a gunslinger. That had to be worrying for him. No wonder he was so gruff.
"What are you doin' following me?" Casey asked, pinning Chuck with his eyes.
Chuck rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, I didn't have anything to do, and . . . and you, you said you were going to visit your friend, but it seemed that there was something going on, and . . ."
Casey rolled his eyes. "Damn do-gooder."
"Yeah, that's me-I save cats from trees and help little old ladies cross busy streets." Chuck pushed his hat back. "At least let me help you get to El Dorado."
"Fine," Casey said. "But if you're comin' along, we're gonna stop and see a guy about getting you a gun. I'm not riding with anyone who's not packing."
Chuck swallowed. "Okay."
"You okay, kid? Look a bit green around the gills."
He looked at Casey, a man who radiated confidence and self-assurance. What was it like to be like that? To not have doubt and worries?
"Yeah . . . yeah, I'm fine. I-I was brought up by my sister. Our parents took off when we were young. She gave up her own dreams, put off her marriage, in order to make enough money to send me to school. She . . . she thought education was important. And if she hadn't . . . if she hadn't died, I'd be a scientist right now."
Chuck wasn't sure why he had told that to Casey. Maybe he wanted the other man to realize that he wasn't some kind of screw-up. That he had skills.
Casey nodded. "But you ain't a scientist. You need to figure out what you're gonna do now. C'mon." Casey climbed on his horse, moving less stiffly than before.
"Yeah-yeah." Chuck climbed onto his horse and followed Casey.
Chuck shifted, trying to get used to the gun belt sitting low on his hips, the weight of the gun banging against his right leg. It had more power than he thought he was ready for, but Casey had told him that for a beginner, a sawed-off shotgun was good because "you don't have to worry about aimin'. Just point and shoot, Bartowski."
Chuck wasn't so sure about that, given that he'd blown away a cactus when he was aiming for a bush three feet to the left. But Casey had just slapped him on the back and climbed onto his horse, leading them on to El Dorado.
The town itself seemed like most small towns: a cluster of store buildings spread over a few streets, a church or two, several saloons, and squat-looking houses. Casey walked his horse slowly through the streets, looking around. "Somethin' ain't right here."
Chuck looked at Casey for further explanation.
"It's Saturday morning. But look around."
He scanned the streets, still not getting it. The streets were quiet-no signs of outlaws or desperadoes.
Casey grunted. "And you're supposed to be smart. Town should be full of people. But it ain't. Means that people don't feel safe around here."
"Oh," Chuck said. That made sense. Ellie had always run errands on Saturdays, going to the general store, the hardware store, places like that, in between visiting with some of her friends. It'd been so long since Chuck had a normal life that he'd forgotten about things like that.
Casey rode up to a small building, set at one end of the main street. He swung down from his horse, draping the reins over the hitching rail, then walked up to the door of the building, stepping inside. There was a small sign by the door, with the words "D. Beckman, Sheriff" on it.
Chuck followed him, needing a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dimly-lit room. A stove was left of center in the room. A large desk was set off against the right side of the room, and a large iron cage with a door ran along the back of the room.
That tipped him off, more than the gun rack and the thick shutters on the windows. This must be the jail, as well as the sheriff's office.
Casey was shaking the hand of a short, bearded man. "Morgan."
"Good to see you, Casey! Good to have you around, especially with . . . well." Morgan seemed to deflate. "You'll see."
"Yeah. This is Chuck Bartowski. Morgan Grimes, deputy."
Chuck reached out and shook Morgan's hand, too. "Nice to meet you."
"You, too! You're a friend of Casey's? I didn't think he had any friends."
Casey grunted. "Where's Beckman?"
"In the back. Sleeping it off," Morgan said.
With another grunt, Casey swung open the iron door and went back into the anteroom, an area that the jail's cells opened onto. Chuck looked at Morgan, who looked sheepishly at Chuck.
"Things haven't been great around here since the sheriff . . . well, there's been some tough times."
Whatever else Morgan was going to say was cut off by a commotion from the jail. Both of them turned towards the anteroom, to see Casey wrestling with a small, red-headed woman. Morgan sighed heavily.
"Great. She woke up mean and hung-over."
"What?" Chuck's voice hit a higher register than normal.
Morgan nodded towards the fight. "The sheriff."
"The sheriff's a woman?" Chuck asked in shock. He thought women could do most of the things that men did, but he'd been out in the world long enough to know his opinion on women was pretty unusual.
"Her father was a sheriff, her brother's a sheriff over in Yuma out in the New Mexico Territory, and her husband was the sheriff here. He died about three years ago, and Mrs. Beckman took over. Nobody else could do it; there's still not a lot of men in these parts due to the War Between the States, and the menfolk that are around, none of them wanted the job. She was a really good sheriff, too."
Chuck looked back at the fight. Casey had gotten the upper hand, dumping a large bucket of water over the sheriff's-Mrs. Beckman's-head. Now she was collapsed on a cot in the jail anteroom. He spoke quietly to Morgan. "What happened to her?"
Morgan looked over his shoulder, as if checking to see if anyone was listening. "Her son got killed, and she turned to the bottle. He was seventeen-he was gonna be the sheriff in a few years, just like his parents had been. She's been like this for six months. I'm glad that Casey's here-they've been friends for years. Maybe he can snap her out of this."
"How did she manage to stay sheriff?"
"Beats me," Morgan said. "I've been doing my best, but I'm not much of a deputy, I admit. And now that there's a war brewing between the Walkers and Daniel Shaw . . . well, we could use the help."
Chuck felt like he'd walked into an upper-level chemistry class without knowing anything about science. He shook his head and looked at Casey, who had clomped his way out of the anteroom and over to the desk, slumping down in the chair.
"You okay, Casey?" Chuck asked.
He grunted. "Yeah. Just wishin' I knew a way to sober someone up quick."
Morgan shrugged. "Dunno. My ma always said a bunch of howlin' Indians did it for most men, but we don't have any of those around."
Casey shot Morgan a withering look. Chuck hesitantly raised his hand. "I . . . I might know something."
"You? You don't strike me as much of a drinker, Bartowski," Casey said sarcastically.
"I'm not. It was my sister's recipe." Chuck searched his memory. "Ipecac . . . cayenne pepper . . . asofetida . . . mustard, the hot kind. And . . . oil of cloves, or-no, croton oil. That was it."
Morgan's eyes bugged out. "Whoa. That's some mixture."
"Ellie always said it was guaranteed to kill or cure," Chuck said, feeling the same bittersweet pang when he thought of his sister.
Casey nodded. "Grimes, you know where you could get that stuff?"
"General store should have most of it," he said, picking up a gun. "Chuck, you want to come with me?"
"Sure," Chuck said. He rested his hand on his gun, still trying to get used to it.
"Then go get it. Be careful out there."
"You got it, Boss," Morgan said, giving Casey a thumbs-up gesture.
Chuck stirred the ingredients together in a bowl. He looked up as Casey and Morgan came in. "You got the gunpowder, Morgan?"
Casey's eyebrows went up. "Gunpowder?"
Morgan handed over a small paper packet to Chuck. "Chuck remembered it on the way to the store."
"We don't wanna blow her up," Casey grumbled.
"I know," Chuck said. "But it'll work."
"It better," Casey said.
Chuck swallowed nervously. Ellie had used this to sober up any guests that got out of line at their inn, and while he had watched her make it several times, he'd never seen the actual recipe for it. He was pretty sure he had the right combination, but . . . well, it couldn't hurt the sheriff that much.
"Okay, it's done," Chuck said. He took a clay mug and poured some of the black, grainy liquid into it. He took a deep breath and lead the way into the jail anteroom, where Sheriff Beckman was snoring loudly on her cot.
"If you close her nose, she'll have to open her mouth to breath," Morgan said. "Then you can dump it down her throat."
Chuck stared at Morgan, wondering how he knew to do that. Casey nudged him. "Go on, Bartowski."
Casey held on to the sheriff's arms, and Morgan laid down on her feet. Chuck took position at the head of the cot, looking down at the sheriff.
She was the least-likely looking sheriff that he'd ever seen. She couldn't be much taller than five feet, and her body, even with the bloat of booze on her, was thin and frail-looking. Her red hair was tumbled around her shoulders, tangled and stringy.
"Go on, Chuck," Casey said.
"Okay," Chuck said, squaring his shoulders. He reached out and clamped her nose shut.
Beckman took a deep breath. After the second one, Chuck tilted the mug over her mouth, pouring the cure down her throat. He took a step back once it was all down, waiting to see what happened. Casey and Morgan stood up, and within a moment, Beckman's body jerked.
"Um . . . we better get outta here," Chuck said, ushering Casey and Morgan out of the anteroom. He took a moment to grab the water bucket, empty since Casey had dumped it over Beckman, and put it on the floor by the cot, near Beckman's head.
He slammed the iron grid door behind him as he stepped out of the anteroom. Casey was staring at him. "What the hell kinda thing is that? Your sister wasn't an embalmer, was she?"
Chuck shook her head. "No, she was a nurse for people who couldn't afford doctoring. She said that this mixture, it did something to your stomach so you couldn't handle alcohol."
"I hope it works," Morgan said. "We need the sheriff."
"That thing between the Walkers and Shaw-it's flaring up?" Casey asked.
Morgan nodded. "Shaw's run outta patience. Word is, he's hired a gunslinger. That's what Miss Gertrude said, anyway."
Some kind of look came over Casey's face. "Gertrude's still in town?"
"She's here for good, she says, but she's left before and come back," Morgan said with a shrug. "It's better when she's here-she runs a good saloon."
"What thing between the Walkers and Shaw?" Chuck asked.
"Get Grimes to explain it to you. I'm gonna go see a girl." Casey picked up his cowboy hat and walked out of the jail.
"He knows a girl?" Chuck asked in disbelief.
Morgan snickered. "Casey and Miss Gertrude have been dancing around each other for years. It's something to see."
Chuck grinned. "Almost makes me wanna go follow him and see what happens. But I've done that once before without his say-so, and it wasn't pretty. I think I've learned my lesson." He poured himself some coffee and sat down in one of the chairs by the stove, stretching out his legs.
Sitting down in the chair on the other side of the stove, Morgan leaned back on two legs. "Not that they're gonna have much time for flirting with everything going on."
"That's not the first time you mentioned bad things happening," Chuck said.
Morgan blew out a breath. "Yeah. It's affecting the whole town. See, the Walkers have been here since before there was an El Dorado-back when there was just coyotes and Indians. Mr. Walker's a widower, and he brought up his five kids by himself. Four kids, now, with Luke dyin' earlier this year. They've got a big spread west of town, lots of cattle and everything."
"Okay . . . and there's another guy who doesn't like Mr. Walker or something?" Chuck asked.
"Daniel Shaw." Morgan made a face. "Some pretty boy from back East. He came out here about ten years ago, just after the War, and started buying up land. He's got pretty much all the good bits around town, and he wants to keep growing. But he can't, because he needs more water."
"Lemme guess," Chuck said. "The Walkers have the water."
"Yep. And since things are looking up for them after a lot of hard years, Mr. Walker doesn't have any plans to sell. Shaw's been leaning on him for about a year, offering a lot of money, trying to make deals. He's even offered to marry Mr. Walker's only daughter." Morgan shuddered. "Shaw really wants that water."
Chuck frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Sarah Walker is better known as Wildcat Walker around here," Morgan said. "She grew up acting like one of her brothers. I don't even think she knows she's a girl."
"Not that there's anything wrong with not acting like a girl," Chuck said.
Morgan looked at him curiously, and Chuck shrugged. "My sister brought me up. She taught me that women oughta have the same kind of choices that men do. She used to say to me, 'Someday, Chuck, women will vote and own property and be doctors and do whatever they want, just like a man does.'" Chuck grew quiet for a moment. "She was a lot braver than most men I've met."
"I'm real sorry for your loss, Chuck," Morgan said, looking sympathetic.
Chuck took a deep breath. "Thanks. Now that I'm finished dealing with the men who killed her, it's like I'm missing her all over again."
"It was like that with my pa," Morgan said. "Cattle rustlers got him. Sheriff Beckman-Mr. Beckman, I mean-he arrested them and got 'em hung. But after that happened, it was like, I knew my pa was really gone."
"Yeah," Chuck said softly.
There wasn't much more you could say after that, Chuck thought. So he slouched down in his chair and drank his coffee silently.
Casey came back a few hours later, his face flushed. Whether it was from liquor or loving, Chuck didn't know-and he didn't want to know. They were talking about getting some dinner when the door that separated the jail anteroom from the sheriff's office swung open, and Sheriff Diane Beckman swayed out.
"Casey, you're lucky I didn't shoot you," she said, her voice full of annoyance.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, grinning a little as he sipped a cup of coffee. "Want some coffee?"
"No," she snapped. "I want a drink."
"That-that's not really a good idea, Mrs.-I mean, Sheriff! Sheriff Beckman."
The sheriff wheeled around slowly and squinted at Chuck. "Who the hell are you?"
"Charles Irving Bartowski, Sheriff. Most people call me Chuck." He held his hand out to her, but she ignored it in order to turn towards her desk and start going through the drawers.
"Whatcha looking for, Diane?" Casey said, a devilish lilt in his voice.
"Whatta think I'm lookin' for?" she said under her breath.
"Whiskey?" Casey asked. "You can stop lookin'. I had Grimes throw it all away."
Beckman gave Casey a glare that, Chuck was sure, was very fearful when it was at full strength and not done by a pair of bloodshot eyes.
"Fine," she muttered. "Go out and get some myself. Need it. All crawlin' inside." She fumbled around, pulling on a gun belt.
Chuck's eyes bugged out. Casey was going to let her go out, still half-drunk, and armed to boot?
Casey sighed and moved his feet from where they were perched on the corner of the desk. "Hell, Diane, you can barely walk."
"Don't talk to me like that," she said, sounding rather belligerent to Chuck's ears. "I know what I can do."
"If we're goin' out, we can do a patrol. Grimes went out a few minutes ago, but I don't trust him to find a Mexican in the middle of Veracruz," Casey said, standing up and grabbing his gun. "Bartowski, keep an eye out. Don't let anyone in if they're not us or Grimes."
"Um, sure, Casey," Chuck said. He rushed over and opened the door for Beckman. The woman stopped and stared up at him.
"Did you do that 'cause I'm a woman or 'cause I'm the sheriff?"
Chuck had spent enough time around women to know that this was a prime example of a trick question. So he took a deep breath and said, "'Cause you're the sheriff, ma'am?"
Beckman nodded. "Good answer, whoever-the-hell-you-are." With that, she ambled out of the jail, followed by a smirking Casey.
He swallowed and quickly closed the door, locking it behind them. He looked around, wondering what he was supposed to do now. Hesitantly, he eased open the shutters over one of the front windows, allowing a crack to look out through. He wondered if he should draw his gun, but it would probably be better to keep it in the holster.
So here he was. For now, he had something to do, something to keep himself busy while he figured out what would come next for him. He knew that Ellie would want him to go back to school, maybe even go back East and get a college degree. But where would the money come for that? Plus, Chuck wasn't sure that was what he wanted.
He had liked school plenty. There was an order to it all, a tidiness that he had liked. But he'd spent the last five years seeing how life had very little order to it, and going back into the cocoon would be a step back.
Chuck peered through the gap in the shutters, staying focused even as his mind kept working. For now, he'd found something that he could do, a way to be useful. Casey might have sneered at him being a do-gooder, but Chuck thought there wasn't anything wrong with that. Maybe being a lawman was a way to keep being a do-gooder. And maybe that way he'd be able to atone for the blood on his hands.
End, Chapter One
Author's Note Two: No Sarah yet . . . she'll be showing up in the next chapter. Do you like this so far? Let me know!