DISCLAIMERS: This is fanfiction. No profit involved. This story is based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended.
RATING: PG-13 for Language
MAJOR CHARACTERS: Ezra and Buck
NOTE: this is in response to a challenge thrown down to me by Tipper: The story must start with a parade, then move on to a market, and end with music. JBrooks added that the guys are looking for a 'bad guy'. This is my response
"They're havin' a parade?" Ezra stated as he met the wall of people, blocking their path.
"It's their Founders Day celebration. 'Parently, they're pretty proud," Buck responded, as he gazed about at the hanging banners and buntings, all of them printed with CARVERTOWN in big black letters.
"Crossin' to the main courtyard just became more difficult," Ezra muttered, pulling his watch from its pocket as he elbowed his way forward.
"A few minutes won't hurt," Buck said. "Couldn't cross now if we wanted. We'll get to him soon enough."
"True," Ezra responded and smiled. "I've always enjoyed parades."
Buck grinned widely. "You and me both! I love a celebration! They're the miracle cure for an unhappy soul." And he gestured to the marching band that clamored toward them. "Seems like an overabundance of horns," he muttered.
"Founders Day?" Ezra stated. "I didn't think so many people lived in Carvertown."
"They must be in from all over," Buck speculated. "It's the big event for the year. Don't see the like of it 'round Four Corners."
They both waited as the second band went past. Their melodies clashed into cacophony. "Seems like overkill," Buck stated in Ezra's ear to be heard over the brass.
Ezra winced as an instrument in the latest group let out a loud 'honk'. "Quite the spectacle."
The next band played a familiar tune. Ezra winced, knowing what would happen. "Dear God, no…"
And, as expected, Buck broke out in an even bigger smile, singing along with gusto, "Buffalo Gals won't you come out tonight! Come out tonight! Come out tonight…"
"Not again," Ezra muttered.
"Come on, Ezra, join in! 'And dance by the light of the mooooon.'" He drew out the last syllable like a cow lowing.
"If it isn't Buffalo Gals, it's…" and Ezra stopped himself before mentioning the dreaded 'Oh, Susannah'.
"Can't help myself, Ezra. I just gotta sing along. 'As I was walking down the street, down the street, down the street, a pretty little girl I chanced to meet, and she was fair to see!'"
The melody carried over the next group, puppeteers reenacting the founding of Carvertown. One puppeteer carried a papier-mâché rock on a stick, and another puppet looked as if it was trying to mate with it.
Still humming the tune, Buck paused long enough to say, "From what I've heard, the fella who started this place was pretty full of himself."
"Doug Carver," Ezra supplied, nodding. "Yes, he claimed was kin to the royalty of England." He dipped his head a little, adding, "It's doubtful."
The folks around them pressed closer as the puppeteers frolicked past, and the next group approached. Ezra leaned out into the street to see.
Buck grasped the conman by his collar and jerked him back, nearly knocking him into a row of spectators. "You're blockin' my view," Wilmington complained.
"Of this?" Ezra gestured emphatically up the street, where men on horses approached. "Hardly worth the trouble."
Buck made a face, and then draped an arm over Ezra's shoulder so that he could turn him in the correct direction. "No," he said in a low voice. "That's what I'm tryin' to see." And a smile spread as he gazed across, unhindered, at the three lovely ladies on the opposite side of the street. "Now, that's a sight worth coming out for." He waggled his fingers in a little wave at them.
Ezra chuckled and took in the view. "On this, I must emphatically agree." And he turned his most beguiling expression on the ladies.
But the women paid them no mind. They were eagerly watching the boisterous parade. They twittered among themselves, drinking from bottles and waving little flags.
"I don't really mind the mustache," Buck said, pointing to the shortest of the three.
"It becomes her," Ezra stated running a finger over his upper lip, and then turned as the next group came alongside them.
Buck frowned and leaned his weight on Ezra. "Are they supposed to be knights or something?"
"Or something…" Ezra repeated, as he shook off Buck's arm.
The group wore facsimiles of armor – pieces of tin partially wrapped around their legs, arms and chests, tied on with twine. Miners' helmets crested their heads with plumes of chicken feathers. They rode with a stiffness that could either be explained as 'regal' or maybe they couldn't move at all in their makeshift finery.
"Is that what armor looks like?" Buck asked in a low voice. "'Cause, I wouldn't want to go up against anyone in that."
"I worked for a short time in a museum devoted to armory," Ezra stated, "Just a short soirée between more lucrative causes. And I can attest that this is nothing close to authentic." He smiled wistfully as he remembered. "It was a place jam-packed with all manner of armor and, for some time, I had led patrons astray, sayin' that the Maximilian style of armament was created because a certain Emperor Maximilian had six toes on each foot, and required the extra room in his…"
The crowd sent up a round of "Huzzahs". The three women were shouting at one of the men, an apparent "Sir Vincent".
The 'knights' bobbed their heads, accepting the adulation. One of them lifted is helmet and waved it, but he lost his grip and it clattered to the ground. He looked embarrassed, and kept up with his position in the procession.
Next, an overburdened dray trundled toward them, pulled by four beautiful Percherons. The crowd put up the largest cheer yet.
"What's that all about?" Buck asked, peering at the festooned wagon.
"A rock," Ezra muttered. "It's just a big rock." And indeed, a big gray rock sat in the midst of patriotic drapery and CARVERTOWN banners.
"Must be the Founder's Rock," Buck decided.
"Ah yes, as the puppet show was trying portray, Mr. Carter stepped onto that rock to survey the land, and proclaimed the area suitable for his town," Ezra filled in. "So they take this important stone on rides through the town on Founder's Day. Doesn't seem that wise. It is, after all, a rock. A very big rock."
The band behind the dray starting playing Buffalo Gals, and Buck sang with glee, "Buffalo Gals won't you come out tonight, and dance by the light of the moon. I stopped her and we had a talk, had a talk, had a talk, but her feet took up the whole sidewalk and left no room for me."
Buck grinned across at the ladies as he bellowed out the song. One of women may have heard him because she raised an eyebrow at him.
"Would you please stop that?" Ezra snipped.
"I can't. I really can't," Buck responded. "once that song gets into my noggin' there ain't no gettin' it out. 'Buffalo Gals won't you come out tonight…'"
"I can find ways to make you stop," Ezra grumbled. "A crowbar might work."
The big horses strained to keep moving on the slow slope of the street, and the driver, spotting the dropped helmet, adjusted the path to avoid it.
It was then that the rock shifted. Onlookers let out a startled gasp as the wagon tilted and the rock pressed against the wooden slats that ineffectually surrounded it. The boards shattered, going off like gunshots. The horses reared in surprise, jerking the wagon to a stop. A wheel collapsed and, inevitably, the big rock rolled off the side of the wagon, where it smacked to the ground.
People ran, screaming as if they'd seen one of the signs of the apocalypse.
The force of the fall was enough to cleave the relic, splitting off a one side – and a sending out a smattering of shards that rolled out over the street.
Behind the wagon, two bands came to a halt in a hail of blats and bellows.
"Now's our chance," Buck said, grabbing Ezra by the arm, "Let's go find our guy before someone tries to get us to help with the cleanup. Time is wasting!"
Ezra heartily agreed and the two hurried across the street. The ladies, sadly, had disappeared.
They dodged through the remainder of the crowd, and then found the way to the main courtyard of Carvertown, where the weekly market was in full swing.
Booths had been set up throughout the courtyard. Some vendors had pulled in their wagons. Others had placed tables and a few permanent structures had been built along the edges. Sellers looked up in surprise at the unexpected influx of jabbering potential customers now that the parade had come to an abrupt end.
Ezra and Buck moved through the market, past a woman who was selling scarves, and then a man selling pocket watches. Here was a man displaying warm woolen socks, and there a women vending amber jewelry. Ezra paused when they came across a man who was selling clever boxes that were disguised as books, but Buck pulled him onward.
There were apple carts everywhere, and someone was selling what appeared to be medieval weapons. "Is that a dagger which I see before me?" Ezra quipped as he passed, and seemed to think he was very clever.
Buck hummed Buffalo Gals in response. That shut Ezra up.
There were banners that declared that an Oktoberfest was in progress, but the two saw very little sign of anything German when they went through the food sellers.
Someone was trying to sell lobster rolls and was attracting no business whatsoever.
Finally, they reached the far side of the courtyard, and there, they found the permanent structure owned by Ned Higgins. The sign above his window stated "Crazy Ned's Donuts". He was looking out of his serving window, watching the muttering crowd flowing into the area.
A delicious scent wafted from his business.
"What's going on?" he asked when the pair drew near. "The parade is supposed to be going on for a while yet." He cocked his head. "All that honking and hooting stopped, too. Is it over?"
"Over and finished," Buck said, leaning against the display area. "Along with your Founder's Rock."
Ned didn't look as if he understood, but he nodded, trying to look intelligent. "Oh," he said. "Did you want doughnuts?" He nodded to his fryer. "Fresh and hot!" And then he pulled a tray from under his counter – showing off a half-dozen of the delicacies.
Both of the law keepers paused and gazed at the tray of amazing looking pastries, so recently fried and perfectly powdered. They glistened in their wonderfulness. "There's real maple in the frosting, and I use a little bacon in the mix," Ned said confidentially with a little wink. "Salty and sweet. It brings out the flavor."
The doughnuts looked ambrosial, daring the two hungry lawmen to partake. So close…so easily taken and eaten.
Ezra cleared his throat to break the spell and stated, "We are here on business. We need to speak to you about Joshua Sommers."
All pretense of amiability fell from Ned's face. "Don't know him," he bit off, and hastily returned the tray of doughnuts to its place below the counter. Both Buck and Ezra gasped a little to see the pastries disappear so quickly.
"What about his fiancé, Amy Davis?" Buck added. "We hear that you're related."
Ned lowered his eyes. "Leave my cousin out of this," he muttered. "She didn't know how slippery he could be. He's a thug."
Buck casually leaned one elbow on the little counter, and spoke confidentially, "We understand that they're travelin' together. We just need to talk to him. No need to involve your cousin in the matter."
"We might be able to disentangle her from him if he causes any trouble," Ezra included.
Ned raised his gaze finally and told them, "You'd get him locked up and let her go?"
Buck and Ezra exchanged a glance. "If that is appropriate…" Ezra responded.
Ned harrumphed. "He's up to no good. Selling potions and mixes. Telling lies. He deserves to get taken away."
"And do you know where he is?" Ezra asked.
"They've got their wagon set up down yonder," he finally said, gesturing toward the other side of the Market, "behind the Union Hotel. They sell all sorts of nonsense there, none of it good. You get him, but keep Amy out of this."
"We'll do our best," Buck stated, touching the brim of his hat and turned to go.
"Wait a minute," Ned said quickly. "Doughnuts? You'd like one, wouldn't you? I have some of my best ones right here."
Ezra pulled a coin from his pocket and set it on the counter. "We'll take two," he stated with a grin.
Ned looked under his counter. "Hang on a tick," he said as he moved things about, clattering about. Finally pulling a small tray free. "These are made with caramel and bourbon. Some say, they're the best. I just have these two left. Will have to make some more, but you guys lucked out."
Ezra's eyes lit up as he pulled one from the tray. There was so much glaze, they sat in a puddle of the gooey stuff.
Buck regarded the remaining doughnut a moment before saying, "I want one of those maple and bacons." He jabbed at the counter. "And hurry it up, we gotta get moving."
Buck and Ezra paused a moment to eat the pastries as they watched from beneath a big oak tree. Josh was working from a wagon while Amy wandered nearby, looking rather useless. He was trying to drum up interest in his wares, but nobody seemed very interested in the purported capabilities of his concoctions.
"Not bad," Buck said as he poked the last of this doughnut into his mouth. "Mmmm, delicious."
"If a bit overly sweet," Ezra commented. "And sticky."
"Should've gotten the maple one," Buck said, brushing at his sugar-speckled mustache with the back of his hand. "Nothing is better than bacon."
"Bourbon?" Ezra tried, but he didn't look entirely enthused about his choice. "I usually enjoy caramel…"
Buck said, "We'd best send a wire to Nathan. Find out how things are going, and let him know that we've tracked down the guy that sold the elixir. He can call the others home while we figure it out here."
Ezra licked his coated fingers before pulling a bottle from his pocket "We haven't seen Mr. Sommers sell the item in question," Ezra stated. It was a pale blue bottle with a label that read 'Special Marvelous Miracle Cure Elixir – guaranteed to cure sleeplessness, brain fever, headache, neuralgia, toothache, impaired vision, stomach ailments and dysfunctions.'"
"The image resembles him somewhat," Standish said, running his thumb over the simple print of a good-looking man with shortish hair. "Could be me for that matter, maybe even you." He held up the bottle at Buck, and peered at him with one eye, then frowned and shook his head. "Maybe not."
With a shrug, Ezra put the bottle back into his pocket and continued to consume the doughnut. "Sleeplessness, of course, is a bit of an understatement. I am hoping that Mr. Jackson has found something to help with those poor souls stricken in his clinic. It didn't appear as if anything would awaken them." And he licked his fingers again. "Sticky," he remarked. He sucked at his thumb.
"Hopefully we can get the cure from these folks, and wake those fellows up."
Ezra shuddered a little. "I can't imagine how horrible it would be in such a state, asleep and unable to wake."
"Well, Nate's hoping they'll wake up on their own. Still, we'll find out if this fella can tell us what's in it," Buck said. "It don't look as if he's gonna be showing it off to just anyone."
Ezra nodded. "He did seem to choose his targets carefully in Four Corners. He particularly singled out Mr. Walden and the Mr. Charles," Ezra said. "And then he fled town immediately afterward. His actions were suspicious. His manner is, indeed, somewhat slippery."
"Yeah, he meant to do what he did," Buck confirmed.
"We should contact the local sheriff," the gambler stated. "This may get ugly, and you know how we all dislike ugly."
"Keep an eye on him," Buck stated. "I'll go find the law."
Ezra nodded and leaned back against the tree. "I'll be ever watchful," he replied.
And Buck walked off, singing "Buffalo Gals, won't you come out tonight…"
"Enough, Mr. Wilmington!" Ezra shouted after him.
"…And dance by the light of the moon," Buck mumbled as he moved through the street.
He took long enough to stop at the telegraph office to send off a message to Nathan, letting him know that they'd located the man who'd sold the tainted concoction. Chris and Vin had headed west that morning, following a different lead. Josiah and JD had searched closer to town. Now that they'd located Mr. Sommers, it was time to regroup.
After sending his message, Buck hurried to the town's jail, finding it empty. With that, he made his way up the street through the remains of the parade and the crowd that hadn't entirely dispersed. Musicians wandered about, looking lost. Puppeteers and a few errant knights chatted. A man with a dragon on his back was scaring children.
The wreckage of the big rock and cart still filled the center of the street, blocking easy travel. It didn't look as if the stone would be moving in the near future. The heavy wagon was destroyed, and the one they'd brought in to replace it didn't look up to the job. They'd need some sort of hoist to lift the rock, and unfortunately, whatever had been used in the first place, was probably back where the stone originated. At that moment, all they'd managed was to further block the main street.
Wilmington found the local law keepers standing around, looking annoyed as they listened to everyone offering suggestions on how to move the thing. An old man was shouting the people who were rushing in to grab a souvenir, telling them that they were stealing their heritage.
That must have been Doug Carver, Buck figured, the founder himself.
Sidling up to one of the peacekeepers, Buck said, "I need your help in apprehending a man."
The deputy gave him a slow look. "I'm kinda busy," he mumbled. "Just look at this mess." He gestured, slowly raising one hand to the issue.
"You want to help clean it up?" Buck asked the man. "Or you want to investigate something worthwhile?"
The deputy glanced to the shattered rock and then hitched his belt as he turned toward Wilmington, "Who's this person you need to 'apprehend'?"
Buck nodded gratefully and headed back toward the market. "His name is Josh Sommers."
"Don't know him," the man replied, following.
"He's not from around here. He's traveling with a woman who's kin to Ned Higgins."
"Crazy Ned, the Doughnut Man?"
"That's the guy."
"Hmmm," the deputy responded. "I'm Phil, by the way. Phillip Parker."
"Buck Wilmington," the ladies' man replied, extending a hand. "I'm here with Ezra Standish and we're the law from Four Corners."
Phil shook Buck's hand and let out a low whistle. "I've heard of you all," he drawled.
"Yeah," Buck responded, not knowing what to say about that. "Seems like word gets around..."
Phil furrowed his brow. "What did Sommers do?"
"He sold a miracle cure to some folks in Four Corners. Two men took it, and they fell into a sleep. Nobody can wake 'em. We got a mighty fine healer in town, and he's done just about everything, but it's been two days now and it's worrying."
"That's not good," Phil summarized.
"Nathan figured that the man who sold it might know the cure. If nothing else, he can tell us what was in the bottle so that Nathan'd have a means of figuring out what to do. It'd help if we could get Sommers locked up. Be easier to question him that way."
Phil nodded, but said, "Don't know if we can hold a man for that, but I 'spect I can help you as much as I can. Where is he?"
"The market," Buck replied, pointed toward the area. "Fixed up with a wagon full of snake oil and such."
Phil grimaced, "I hate those sort. Wish we could just lock him up for that."
A kid clattered down the boardwalk. He held up his hands to stop the pair and flapped a piece of paper at them.
"You're tall!" the kid shouted when he reached Buck. "Good thing you're tall. I could see you all the way down from the telegraph office." He held the paper toward Buck, but close enough to his chest to make it obvious that he expected something before he'd give it up.
Buck fished a coin out of his pocket and handed it to the kid before the message reached him. The boy ran off, dodging through the remainder of the crowd.
"Hell," Buck muttered as he read the note. "Damn…"
"What's wrong?" Phil asked as he started toward the market again.
With a discontented look, Buck shook his head. "We had two people sick in Four Corners. Two folks who just wouldn't wake up. One of them died this afternoon. Just stopped breathing after a while."
Phil stopped a moment, his face slack. "That's murder then," he said. "We can lock Sommers up for that."
Buck nodded with conviction. "Let's go get him. Their wagon was just over here."
A/N: I'm sure they'll get this settled pretty quickly.