The following is a work of fan fiction based on the CBS television series, The Magnificent Seven. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp., or anyone else who may have legal rights to the characters and settings. This story is strictly for entertainment. There have been series and films dealing with time travel such as The Time Machine (H G Wells), Time Tunnel (Irwin Allen) and Time Cops; any similarity is unintentional and not meant to infringe the copy-copyright of their writers. Sentinel copyright of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions.
Special thanks to Texas Aries for your great pictures and your support in writing this story and to Sarah L, my hard working beta reader, without you there wouldn’t have been a story. Any errors are mine.
Warning for adult language
THE MAGINIFICENT SEVEN (OW) X SENTINEL CROSSOVER
AU is open.
For the first time since the 19th Century, the research of Sir Richard Burton is made public, and the modern world learns about the presence of Sentinels (men with five enhanced senses) and Guides (men or women with the ability to connect on spiritual level with them) living among them. For nearly a century, Sentinels were thought to have become extinct like the Dodo, the last recorded Sentinel dying in 1912.
During the Civil War of 1860 - 1865 both side used Sentinels and Guides, after the fighting finished the surviving pairings travelled to all points of the compass, looking for a peaceful existence, trying to keep one step ahead of a population that feared what they could do. The tactile need for contact between Sentinel and Guide, led to sometimes fatal misunderstandings about the true relationship between the men. Having enhanced senses carried
with it a steep price, any Sentinel with more than two enhanced senses needs the presence of a Guide to help him manages them. Because, without them, they could trigger a sensory overload which would leave the sentinel in a comatose state that would lead to death...
One such modern pairing was James Ellison and Blair Sandburg, respectively, who worked for the ultra top secret Time Agency. Without Blair’s touch, scent, his voice to keep him sane, Jim Ellison would be lost in a maelstrom of cascading senses. In return for Blair’s support, he gave the younger, smaller man protection and stability.
In 2014, Dr Preston finally proved that Time Waves existed, and although a natural phenomena, could be controlled and directed. Because of the possibility of misuse of time it became strictly controlled, to protect against abuse. But what no one could have realised was that Time had its own protection, and no matter how hard people tried, major events in time could not be changed, only small ones. But for some people that was enough.
Captain Simon Banks waved his two Agents to take a seat. ‘We have reason to believe that Samuel Murdock and Philip Sanders have managed to hack into a Time Wave.’ He saw the stunned look on the face of Dr Blair Sandburg.
“I know it should be impossible Sandburg, but it’s happened.”
“Simon, do you know when they went back too?.”
“Murdock and Sanders have gone back to 1874, American West; we believe that their target are the gold and silver shipments of that era.’ Turning in his seat, the tall Captain pressed a button to lower the ceiling screen down.
At the same time a flick of the fingers lowered the lights. “The main problem is that newspapers for this era are sketchy at best, but we have detected some changes in them that indicate that they might have already taken at least one silver shipment. But history has recorded that there is a major shipment due in eight months time.’
“Why go back this far in advance,” Blair asked. “Surely it’s better for them to hit and run.”
Jim shook his head, “No, Chief, I think what they’re doing is getting their hand in, and then, why stop at that one? They could amass one hell of a fortune in two, maybe three years and then bring the silver and gold back and it would be untraceable, right Simon?”
“That’s what the thinking is. As you know Jim, we try to keep movement on the wave to the minimum. Ian Worth is already back there, he went in to 1865, therefore Murdock and Sanders couldn’t insert ahead of him; he had been assigned to the New Mexico Territory, and he’s become concerned that Murdock and Sanders are manipulating the past. He believes that they have begun a pre-emptive strike on the lawmen that stopped the major silver robberies in New Mexico. History, gentlemen, has already been changed, and we need you to make sure that it regains its track. Now Ian is a good Western anthropologist, and will be able to help you, but he doesn’t have the skills needed to make this mission work.’ Simon looked down at this file. “I have my own concerns about including you in this mission Jim; I know what happened last time you rode the Wave, it nearly killed you.”
Jim Ellison cut him off quickly, “I wasn’t online then. This time, and with Blair, it will be different.” The words were said with such conviction it made Simon look up, his eyes moving from Jim Ellison to his guide.
Simon looked Dr Blair Sandburg up and down critically. He was, in Simon’s eyes, too young to be a double PhD, and he dressed as if he was a sole survivor of an explosion in a paint factory with his long hair he was a throw back to the 1960’s hippy culture. There were not that many people that would have taken on the imposing ex-Ranger; he had a glare that could strip paint and give frost bite at 100 feet, and an attitude that yelled my way or the highway. But the kid had guts and anyone that could get into “Eerie Ellison’s” face and not get splattered across the countryside was a man that deserved respect, and could get the job of safe guarding a stubborn sentinel done.
“Okay, Sentinel Ellison, it’s your call.” Simon paused. ‘Now let me introduce you to the main players as we know them,” the slide was a photograph brown tinted of seven men in western dress stood in front of a saloon called the Standish Tavern. “This is the Magnificent Seven, as they were called.” He smiled as he saw the look on Jim’s face, ‘and you thought they where fictional western characters from a 1960 film. Well they where real people; we don’t know a lot about them, but we have been able to identify them, from some of the papers belonging to Judge Orin Travis we have been able to get a good description of them and the photograph comes from his estate. The problem is that someone has gone through and destroyed all of the other papers relating to the Seven; these only survived because they where hidden in a secret desk draw. Because these are copies and not the original when history began to change, these where not affected by the alternate history. We have no idea what ultimately happened to the Seven, they appear to have just disappeared from history, without a trace. Our only other source is this Dime novel.” Simon picked the book up, “It is the nearest we have to a independent account of them, but it’s a Dime Novel so, he shrugged, “Just treat it as broad stroke of history, but then I don’t have to tell you that, Blair. Ian has supplied us with the data on the alternate history as have the changed documents. So, let me introduce you to the Magnificent Seven.’
Simon clicked the mouse and the group picture vanished to be replaced by one of a close up of one of the seven.
“Okay, the leader of the Seven is Christopher ‘Chris’ Larabee, the original Man in Black; by all accounts, one of the fastest gunmen ever, a stone cold killer, a nasty drunk with a mean temper and a bad reputation, he worked as a professional gunslinger and was recruited by Judge Orin Travis - a Senior Circuit Riding Judge - to lead a group of Regulators to protect the Town of Four Corners. It was considered one of the most dangerous towns in New Mexico Territory. General description; tall, lean in build, dark dirty blond hair, green/blue eyes, in his early 30’s. But his all black clothing is the best clue.
Now the original history seems to indicate that they met up with the Judge after their first job together, as they helped bring a murderer to justice and he then recruited them in Four Corners.
This alternate history is a lot darker; it appears that Larabee was on the wrong side of the law when he clashed with Judge Travis in Blue Creek and in 1875 he had a gang of three with him, Tanner, Wilmington and Standish.
Now this would mean that those four must have met up prior to that date, possibly a whole year earlier than the original history’s recorded meeting in Four Corners in 1875. Larabee’s gang already have a reputation as the most dangerous gun crew in New Mexico. Somehow you have to make sure that Judge Travis survives the meeting and recruits them as Regulators for Four Corners.
Next is Vin Tanner, Larabee’s second in command. Ex buffalo hunter and ex bounty hunter, sharpshooter - a sniper by our standards he came from Texas, wears a buckskin coat, has long hair, blue eyes, a slender build, looks to be in his mid to late twenties. Carries a sawn off Winchester rifle instead of the usual Colt.
“A mare's leg,” Blair put in, and then noticing the look from Jim, he added, “Steve McQueen in the classic series, Wanted, Dead or Alive, used to carry one; way cool.”
“Well, remember this guy is no fictional character; considered by some to be a renegade, he would have brought in more than his share of bounties dead over the back of a horse, so don’t ever forget,” Simon paused to make his point, “all of these men are killers, Blair, even if they are the good guys.” Once he saw Blair nod, he continued. “Right, Vin Tanner is unusual in that he has a bounty of $500 dollars on his head for murder, committed in Texas. The fact the was protected by the other seven and Judge Travis leads us to think that he was possibly innocent. It’s known that he met Larabee for the first time in Four Corners.’
‘The alternative history is a lot darker; Ian has found out that Tanner is wanted for the murder of four Scalp hunters that were part of a gang that killed his adoptive Indian family, and we are talking women and children here. Tanner hunted those four down and when he had finished with them there wasn’t a lot of them left to be identified. He never gave up hunting for the rest of them, and became a formable Bounty Hunter, he must have gotten to close for comfort. Tanner was arrested in Tascosa when he killed a local rancher called Jess Kincaid. He maintained that he didn’t kill the man, and was framed by the surviving members of the gang. But, hell, the locals in Tascosa had a rope with his name on it, and only too happy to lynch a murdering renegade. Tanner escaped and the reward went up to $500 dollars. Guilty or innocent, remember, this is an extremely dangerous man. All we know is that he met up with Larabee prior to Blue Creek, but how or why were not certain. Jim, make sure you don’t box him in, you’re going in as a US Marshal again. I don’t want you setting yourself up as a target for him. Tanner is more likely to fight if cornered rather then flee. He’s formable in his own right, but with Larabee at his side, going against Tanner is like signing your own death warrant. Remember what I told Sandburg, these men are killers pure and simple, not matter which side their on.”
‘Buck Wilmington; dark hair, wears a moustache, bigger built than Larabee and Tanner, brown eyes, age wise possible mid to late thirties, seems to be an old friend of Larabee's. He’s a real ladies man, fun loving, and it’s worth remembering he’s the most approachable of the Seven. But again he is also a hired gun and possible the third fastest draw of the Seven.’
‘Evidence again places him in Four Corners as for his first meeting with Larabee for three years. Alternative history is close, but possibly there was no break in their relationship; until Tanner came along he was the only one that could talk Larabee out of anything.’
‘Ezra P Standish, aka Simpson, Sunderland, Selkirk; a professional gambler and conman, late twenties, dark hair, smaller then the other three, stockier build, southern, possibly from Georgia. You’ll recognise him straight away; red coat, black Mississippi river boat gambler’s hat, waistcoat, carries - and make a note of this - a derringer strapped to his right arm, a shoulder holster and a strapped down Remington, and he is thought to be the second fastest of the Seven after Larabee. Another thing, he is ambidextrous and although he’s a gambler, he’s also a gunman. For some reason there was a rocky start at the beginning of his relationship with the Seven. In the alternative history, he was rescued by Larabee, Tanner and Wilmington from being tarred and feathered. We are lucky here in that Ian Worth was actually in town when it happened, he was monitoring Lararbee. He reported they managed to stop the town’s folk before they could pour the boiling tar over Standish’s head. But that Standish suffered first degree burns to the back, and chest. Larabee and the others holed up in the local hotel with him, Ian spoke to the doctor, and he told Ian that when he removed the tar it had taken skin with it, and there was going to be considerable scaring and that Standish has already taken a fever. A week later with Standish drugged up to the gills with laudanum they left town with him.”
‘JD Dunne, the youngest of the Seven, late teens, early twenties, smaller, dark haired, wears a Bat Masterson type hat, carried two guns is known to be ambidextrous, possibly the fourth fastest of the gunmen, after Larabee, Standish, Wilmington. He’s from the East coast, possibly Boston.
‘And this is also worth noting - he carried the badge at Four Corners, and so he is officially its Sheriff, but the leader is Larabee, and the kid defers to him. Of the Seven, his history is the least changed.’
‘Nathan Jackson; an ex-slave, the healer of Four Corners, he was rescued by Larabee and Tanner.’
‘This is the newspaper report the day after it happened; the journalist was Mary Travis, daughter in law of Judge Orin Travis and the local newspaper owner. The cowboys belonging to a trail herd were going to lynch Jackson because their boss died of gangrene; Larabee and Tanner jumped in and saved his life.’
‘Now, on the surface, this action was totally out of keeping with Larabee and Tanner’s reputations; after all, what’s in it for a hired gun and a wanted ex bounty hunter?”
“So a good example of how we can’t trust everything you’re telling us,” Blair put in and then grinned. “Sorry Simon,” he added as he caught the Captain’s look.
“But you’re right. We only have second hand information, so guide lines only guys.” “Okay, Jackson; later twenties, possibly, tall, carries a gun, but is more expert with a knife - as a slave he wouldn’t have been allowed access to a gun. Seems protective of the seven, closest to Josiah.”
“How does he get along with Standish, a southerner?” Blair asked.
“No idea, but they appear to have had a working relationship, so tread carefully in that area. Remember memories and feelings are still going to be running high about anything connected to the Civil War. For you it’s history, for them it’s something they lived through. It can’t be stressed enough you have to make sure that Larabee, Tanner, Standish and Wilmington are all there in Four Corners in time to rescue Nathan from the lynching. Without him, there is no Seven.’
‘Last but not least, Josiah Sanchez; ex preacher, big man, powerfully built, and the oldest of the seven in this mid- late forties, but good with a gun. Salt and pepper hair, and the tallest of them. Has one hell of a temper when he drinks. Of all of them, the last two members of the Seven’s history is the least changed so far. Possibly because Murdock and Sanders believe that they have derailed the others enough to stop them.’
‘For that reason we are going to insert you in 1875, just prior to a fledgling Seven’s meeting with Judge Travis; you’ll find Ian Worth waiting for you to brief you and bring you up to date with what’s happening.’
‘As I said, your cover, Jim, will be the same as last time; you’ll be a US Marshal. Ian has made sure that you’re accredited and the official paperwork is all in place. As far as the people at that time are concerned, you took a leave of absence to find your Guide, after been diagnosed as a Sentinel.” Looking towards Blair, Simon continued “While looking you met Doctor Blair Sandburg, a fossil hunter from Washington DC, and you bonded.”
Jim looked thoughtful. “These silver shipments were originally hit, so someone else out there is planning the same as Murdock. What’s he going to do about them?”
“We don’t know, Murdock and Sanders might attack on the back of them, using them as a decoy or they might recruit them, you won’t know until you get there.”
“Your job is going to be hard, your first duty is to make sure that the Magnificent Seven form, and that they end up at Four Corners. You’re cleared to use any, and I repeat any, methods that will work. Even if it means getting down and dirty. The second is to make sure that Murdock and Sanders are returned to the Hub for sentencing.’
A new picture came up; “Judge Orin Travis, no photographs survive. This is the nearest we have, the painting as done within 2 years of the Seven’s photograph. Judge Orin Travis was the person that recruited the Seven as Regulators. He was a tough, hanging judge, but a fair man, and he didn’t just hang people for the hell of it. In the original history he recruited the Seven as Regulators and supported them, keeping Tanner's secret and protecting him as much as he could. In the alternate history, Judge Travis didn’t survive his encounter with Larabee; you have to make sure that part of history changes, he had to recruit those four men, the fledgling Seven, and get them to Four Corners.’
Looking at it, Jim had to agree that the Judge was an old man, but with strength of character that jumped out of the painting, if the Seven were as unruly in either history as it sounded, he must have been one hell of an old man to rule them with a rod of Iron that seemed to have been tempered with common sense and compassion for these diverse men. He would, Jim decided, be an interesting man to meet.
Then Simon’s voice brought him back to the future present. “Tomorrow at 6.00 am, I need you both to go down to supply and check your equipment.”
As they left, Simon called Jim back. Blair hesitated, and then was waved off by his sentinel to carry on ahead of him.
“I made the right choice Simon, I know what they’re saying about Blair,” his voice became colder, as Ellison suppressed the anger he could feel building.
“Easy Jim, all I was going to say was that you’re going to have to watch the Sandburg , this is an anthropologist’s dream, and for the record,” Simon locked his gaze on Jim, holding it, “If I didn’t think the kid was good enough, I would have told him to his face, the first time he set foot in this department, before you bonded.” Then he put his hand out, and the two men shook as Simon added “Good Luck.”
Blair jumped down from the artificially distressed Wagon; “Jim, you should see this, you won’t believe what they have fitted into it. Take a look at this, the wagon bed lifts up and we have two of the light weight Kevlar vests there, a snipers rifle, a full paramedic medical kit and the tranquilliser guns. These tranquillisers will put someone down, but won’t kill them; cuts the risk of causing a time ripple.” Blair paused. “Something wrong Jim?”
The older man waved his guide to join him away from the others.
“What’s wrong?” Blair repeated, his voice began to show his concern.
“Blair, are you sure you’re alright with this?” Jim wrapped his senses round his guide, monitoring his vital signs; like a human lie detector, he would know if the younger man lied. This was a dangerous mission, and whereas he trusted Blair with his life, he couldn’t drag the younger man into danger if Blair was doing this just through a sense of loyalty; he had to be willing to go for the right reasons.
“Are you kidding, this is a chance in a lifetime!,” he was bouncing on the spot with hardly suppressed energy.
“Chief,” Jim put a hand on the younger man’s shoulder, “This is no day trip, and there is always a risk with riding the Wave.”
“I know that, they might think that I am flake big guy.” There was a sadness in his voice as he said, “but I believe in what we’re doing, Murdock and Sanders have to be stopped. It’s not just the money, the longer they’re in the past, the more chances there are for them to change something,” Blair put his hand up to stop Jim before he could speak, “I know they say that the natural law of the Wave stops them interfering with the big picture of history, but who’s to say that if they kill a bartender or a bank clerk the man wasn’t the link in a chain to a larger slice of history. They have to be stopped,” he grinned, “so quite worrying big guy.” Blair moved a step closer to Jim, into his personal space - something that would have got anyone else splattered - and placed his hand over his sentinel’s heart. “No one could force me not to go on this mission with you, Jim, and it’s going to be one hell of a ride.”
Jim and Blair were stood in the ready room, dressed in their western clothes, checking their weapons. Jim caught his guide’s look of distaste at the guns, and shook his head. “Sorry Blair, but a man unarmed in those days would attract the wrong kind of attention. You know Wyatt Earp went through most of his career without killing a man.”
“Right, Jim, and the OK Corral was just a misunderstanding,” Blair snapped back at his sentinel.
”I -” Just then Simon came in, cutting off whatever Jim was about to say.
Simon could feel the tension between the pairing; putting his concerns aside he said, “Ian Worth, has just sent in an emergency report. A gang of Bounty Hunters have caught Vin Tanner and he’s due to be hung in six days time.’
Jim swore, “Does Worth have each of the Seven located.”
“Apart from Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez who are at Four Corners, and Dunne is en-route from the East Coast. The others are drifting as a gang; his guess is that they are on their way to rescue Tanner. Do whatever you need to, just make sure that Wilmington, Larabee, Tanner and Standish meet up with Nathan, Josiah and Dunne on the 28th July in time to stop the lynching.”
The technician put his head round the door. “Sorry Sir, but its time go to the Wave launch site; we have a vehicle ready for you.”
Simon nodded and put his hand out, and Jim clasped it in firm handshake. Simon wished him and Blair good luck on the Wave, before they were escorted to the vehicles that would take them into the heart of the machine which would allow them to time slip back to 1875.
70 miles outside of Cascade.
The backup crew took the wagon out of the container truck, and then hitched up the team and the individual riding horses the two Agents would need. The tech team and the truck were taken into an underground facility. For Jim and Blair it was as if hell was travelling towards them at full speed. The roadway in front of them vanished, changing into a dirt track, as the Wave re-wrote time. As it picked them up, it was like surfing a giant wave, and it was only a time before they got wiped out. One minute they could see the forbidding research centre and the banks of cameras that recorded every Wave ride, the next all they had was the wagon and each other. If the Wave had been directed correctly they were just outside of Blue Creek, New Mexico Territory, a couple of days before Larabee and his gang arrived.
Jim looked round for Blair, quickly crossing to his Guide as he saw him try to lever himself to his feet.
“What the hell was that?”
“The Wave; you’d best sit down Blair.” He manhandled his guide in to sitting on a rock and pushed one of the water canteens into his hand. “Stay put and drink this, I am going to have a look round.” He brushed Blair’s shoulder as he went by, the sentinel showing concern for his guide. Now he had work to do; later he would have to bond with Blair. The bond was a spiritual joining of Sentinel and Guide, the cornerstone of the connection between the two men. Just touching his Guide could help him bring his senses under control after the trauma of riding the Wave.
The town of Blue Creek was no different than any of the other towns in the New Mexico Territory. More prosperous than some, with a church, a school, and two hotels, the people were law abiding and had no idea of what was heading their way.
Jim opened the door of the hotel room, at the second knock, his hand resting on his gun. Then, his face split into a smile as he saw the portly, bearded anthologist Ian Worth. “Come in Ian,” he waved the older man to a seat as he closed the door behind him.
“Ian, Dr Blair Sandburg, Chief, this is Dr Ian Worth.”
Blair shook hands warmly, “I’ve read your papers Dr Worth, very impressive.”
Ian returned the smile, “Nice of you to say that, Dr Sandburg, I am a bit out of the loop here in 1875, but last time I caught the Wave, I read your Sentinel Territorial paper and I would love to discuss your hardwire behaviour theory.”
Jim shook his head “Blair, Ian, a minute here, you can have your bull session later, we have a mission remember.”
“Sorry Jim, got a little carried away there for a minute.” Ian put in apologetically. “The way things stand at the moment, I have managed to get the Governor to consider the idea of fighting fire with fire. Four Corners is in line - excuse the pun - in a few years time to have the railroad coming through. But if the town is too lawless the railway company will just find a new location, and too many people have vested interests in that to want that to happen.
The Governor, with a bit of work, had agreed to give Senior Circuit Judge Orin Travis a free hand in this matter. So, I sold Travis on the idea that you would help him in getting this sorted out. By the way Jim, he remembers you from your last mission, and thinks highly of you. We are due to meet Travis at 7.00 pm tonight to finalise our plans over dinner.”
“What about Vin Tanner, you said that he was due to be executed in six days.” Blair said.
“Vin Tanner is on his way from Tascosa as we speak. As far as the men escorting him are concerned, Tanner is facing charges in Blue Creek, and will hang here.” Ian yawned, “God Jim, sometimes it’s been like banging my head against a brick wall, I am really glad for the backup. Because sooner rather than later Larabee is going to arrive, and if this goes wrong, ‘we’ll’ be counting corpses.”
Judge Orin Travis was considered one of the best Judges in New Mexico; he was in his sixties, but still retained a passion for the law that many a newly qualified lawyer would envy. Travis moved a little slower these days because of his arthritis, but was still more than capable of brandishing a scattergun when he had to take a more active role in maintaining the law. He took a sip of his coffee and viewed the three men over the rim. Ian Worth was the Governors Assistant, solid and reliable, and if anyone else but Worth had come to him with this idea, he would have laughed the man out of his courtroom. But he had also managed to recruit US Marshal James Ellison into his plan, and Ellison had helped locate a cargo of stolen Winchesters that the gunrunners where going to sell to the Indians. That had ended bloodily, but Ellison had gotten results, so as far as Travis was concerned Ellison was a solid lawman with a good brain and the courage to put his life on the line for his job. The only unknown factor was the young looking Dr Sandburg, but since the other two vouched for him, Travis would give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment.
“So, as you can see gentlemen, the idea would be to send Larabee and his gang down to Four Corners as Regulators, in return for the release of Tanner.” Ian explained.
Travis took another sip of this coffee and placed the empty cup down. “Now, I am not happy about this Mr Worth, but,” he raised a hand to still Worth’s protest. “But it has merit and I am willing to give it a try.”
“What’s to stop Larabee trying to free Tanner before they get here.” Blair asked.
“If the plan works, then Larabee is going to be trying to cover Blue Creek, Waterville and Brownstone, because he doesn’t know which town Tanner is heading for. Once they find him here, I would guess that that member of the gang will telegraph the other two, and they’ll be coming hell for leather to Blue Creek.” Travis explained, then he added “and we, gentlemen, had better be ready for them.”
The next day, Jim and Blair got to know the local law. Sheriff Wilson had been an officer in the Union Army and had moved to Blue Creek after the Civil War. A storeowner, he had become Sheriff through default when the previous Sheriff had been killed in a bank robbery and John Wilson had helped organise the posse that brought the bank robbers in. And he was none too happy to hear the news that Jim brought him.
“Chris Larabee is coming here?” he shook his head, “You have to be crazy. I’ve heard about him, he gunned a man down in Kansas for knocking his drink over; he is a killer, pure and simple, and you have the nerve to stand there and tell me, that that bastard is heading straight for my town?”
“If it goes the way we believe, then Larabee will be on his way in 24 hours.”
“And if it doesn’t Marshal Ellison, how many people am I going to be burying?”
Blair leaned back in the chair outside the jail. While he waited for his Sentinel to emerge from his chat with the Sheriff, he watched the people go by, still not really able to believe that he was actually back in 1875.
As Jim came out he got to his feet. “So how did it go?”
“Better than I thought Chief.”
“Huh, that bad,” Blair mused
“Yeah, that bad..” Jim’s voice trailed off as he saw the man riding slowly into town; he recognised him from the old photograph. It was Ezra Standish, the gambler. Standish was riding a good-looking chestnut horse, yet it looked as if it had been ridden hard, both rider and horse where covered with dust from the trail.
Jim held Standish’s gaze as the man rode past, before Standish turned his horse towards the hitching rail of the nearest saloon.
Dismounting, Standish slackened the girth on his saddle and then stood beating some of the dust off his jacket and hat before, with one last look at them, he headed into the saloon.
A small smile tugged at Jim’s lips, “That’s Ezra Standish, now all we need is Tanner to turn up for the show to begin”
It was late afternoon; Sheriff Wilson was called outside by his Deputy Len Fuller, to watch the arrival of their prisoner.
The prisoner was on a horse in the middle of the group of three horsemen, his hands where tied behind his back, and he was hunched forward in the saddle, with the brim of his slouched cavalry hat pulled down over his face.
The leader of the horseman came to a halt in front of Wilson.
“Name’s Joe Murphy, from Tascosa ,” he jerked a thumb over his shoulder towards the prisoner, “I’ve got your gallows bait here, and you’re welcome to him. Bastard tried to escape; Pete here,” Murphy jabbed a thumb at one the riders, “got a knife in his side trying to stop him.” Murphy scratched his jaw with his thumbnail, “Should really ask for more for that, Pete’s not going to be able to work for awhile. But we gentled him down for you.” He leered at Wilson, as the other two men laughed.
Wilson moved closer just as the prisoner lifted his head, and the Sheriff found himself nailed by a pair of vivid blue eyes, that burned with hatred and made him take a step backward.
Murphy caught the move and laughed, “He’s all yours now Sheriff, once you’ve paid up what we’ve been promised.” Then he swung down off his horse, and pulled out the papers from his pocket, and handed them to Wilson. The Sheriff read through them quickly, everything seemed to be in order; the paperwork stated that the Mayor of Tascosa had hired the three bounty hunters to take Vin Tanner to Blue Creek. There was a bonus that was payable on his arrival, alive, of $400. Wilson’s eyebrows went up at the amount of the bonus. “This seems in order, I’ll authorise Mr Greenway to pay you your money. Okay, bring him in.”
Murphy pushed past Wilson, as he ordered over his shoulder, “Tom cut him down, and watch the bastard don’t try anything.’
The man called Tom grinned, “He’s lost his fight Joe, that little trek of his sure knocked the stuffing out of him, especially once he got dragged a few times.”
Wilson shook his head, he had seen the badly bruised face, and the dried blood on Tanner’s face, he was shocked by the fact of how young Vin Tanner was. He had expected someone much older.
“Wilson, get the fuck in here,” Joe Murphy bellowed, obviously impatient to get this job finished. The sheriff had just begun to enter the jail when something caused him to turn back. Tom must have hauled Tanner off his horse, and he had landed hard on the ground. Fisting the front of the prisoners hide coat, he was dragging the younger man to his feet. When suddenly Tanner exploded upwards much faster, as his hands pulled free from the ropes, Tanners knee caught Tom hard in the groin, doubling the older man over, just in time to catch a knee in the face that snapped his head back, with a sickening crack. Pete was scrabbling for his gun but by then Tanner had tugged Tom’s gun free; he rolled under the belly of his horse and came up and onto his knees, and fired up at Pete. The impact of the bullet threw him from the saddle, the horse side stepped, but by then Tanner had caught hold of the saddle horn, swinging himself into the saddle and was heading hell for leather at a gallop out of town, bent low over the neck of the horse.
Wilson had made no attempt to pull his gun, the speed of the escape had frozen him in place, and suddenly he was pushed aside as Murphy came flying out of the jail, his gun in his hand. Before he could aim at the escaping prisoner, a single shot rang out.
Vin Tanner was thrown from the saddle to land heavily in the middle of the street, as Jim Ellison stepped off the boardwalk, a smoking gun in his hand.
Ignoring the people that now lined the street gawking, he walked up to the unconscious body, kicking the gun away from the fallen man. Using his foot, Jim flipped Tanner onto his back; blood coated the left shoulder of the hide coat and was now trickling down the side of his face. Crouching, the sentinel felt for a pulse, but that was for show, already his enhanced senses had scanned the injured man’s vital signs and satisfied he was still in one piece, Jim sat back on his heels.
The touch of Blair’s hand brought him back to the present, he had begun to zone out, enter that void of overloaded sense that could put a sentinel in a coma.
“You where losing it big guy, and we’ve got company, the Saloon.”
Looking up from the injured man Jim could see Standish among the gathering crowd; the gambler was holstering the Remington revolver he carried. Whatever he was going to do to back the play of the escaping Vin Tanner was, for the moment, put on hold. Standish, Jim mused, could do nothing at the moment; with Tanner down, any escape would be impossible. Turning on his heel Standish walked away from his unconscious friend, as Murphy and Wilson arrived.
Jim knew it didn’t take a genius to know that Standish was heading for the Telegraph Office, and that within the hour Larabee would know where Vin Tanner was being held. Then nothing would stop the notorious gunman from trying to claim back his friend, and he was about to up the stakes.
“Blair, keep an eye on Tanner,” and the sentinel took off in pursuit of the gambler.
As Ezra Standish was about to enter into the Telegraph Office, he froze as he felt the barrel of gun pressed to the back of his neck. “Now, Standish, keep your hands where I can see them, and if you try to pull that derringer of yours, I’ll feed it to you barrel first!”
“Ellison, Marshal Ellison.”
“Marshal.” The correction was made smoothly; only a sentinel could hear the way Ezra’s heart beat had sped up, “I’ve done nothing wrong in this fair town, you have obviously mixed me up with some miscreant.”
“You ride with Chris Larabee, you tell him that if he comes into meet with Judge Travis tomorrow at 12, noon, Tanner will be kept safe. If he doesn’t show, he’ll have to take his chances with Murphy and his friends.” Jim lowered the gun, and a firm hand pushed the smaller gambler hard, “and believe me you don’t want that, that bastard gets off on pain. So think about it.”
Ezra had to catch hold of the counter to stop himself from falling from the hard push that had propelled him into the office. The con-man gambler turned fast, the derringer snapping into his hand, but Marshal Ellison was gone.
Quickly, he pushed coins across to the telegraph operator, and waited while his quick scrawled message was sent. He stood listening as the message was sent; the operator was shocked when the gambler suddenly snapped at him.
”Stop, that should have been a dash and a dot, send it again. When you
get a reply, I’ll be in the saloon”.
Murphy and Len Fuller dragged Tanners limp body back down the street, and into the jail. Wilson had the door to the cell open, Vin was thrown in and the door slammed shut behind him.
Blair had followed them into the jail, alarmed by the blood that dripped from the wounded man onto the floor he protested. “We have to get him a doctor”.
“He gets fucking nothing,” Murphy snapped back, catching hold of Wilson’s arm as the Sheriff yelled at his deputy to get the doctor.
“You hear me, he get’s nothing, until we see the money, he’s worth $500 on the poster and another $400 for getting that murdering bastard to Blue Creek. And I want the money I am owed.”
Wilson shrugged him off. “Len, get Doctor Thorpe here, now. Murphy, you’ll get your money, but I am not having anyone bleeding to death on my watch. Tanner hangs, and he’s not going to cheat the rope.” His voice got harder. “What you waiting for Len, I am the one that’s paying your wages, now get.”
Jim kept watch on the Telegraph Office, but his gaze swung back to the Jail when Murphy with Tom in tow came slamming out of the building and Murphy stalked off to the nearest saloon. The sentinel heard the click of the Morse code key and he turned his attention back to the Telegraph Office as he caught the name Standish, then the rest of the message.
--- -. -- -.-- .-- .- -.-- -.-.
O N M Y W A Y C
Short and sharp and to the point, just what Jim had expected from the gunman. Now all they could do was sit and wait.
A few minutes later the boy from the Telegraph Office came running out and headed towards the Oriental Saloon.
Pushing himself away from the post he was leaning on the Sentinel made his way back to the jail, as he walked he became thoughtful;, Tanner was a Sentinel, he had felt the connection, a prickling sensation like an itch under his skin he couldn’t scratch when he had touched him. Also, he now recognised that Tanner’s scent had been on the gambler Standish, but he was puzzled by the other scent that marked the man. With a mental shrug he made a note to talk to Blair about it when they had a minute. Suddenly he set off at a run as he heard the fight in the jail.
Bursting through the door, he could see Blair and Wilson with the help of Fuller were trying to subdue the Prisoner, pinning him to the cot in the cell. An older man in a black frock coat was leaning over the writhing body with a scalpel in his hand. “For god sake keep him still.” Doctor Thorpe dropped the scalpel back into his bag and fished out a brown bottle, and then searched round for a piece of cloth.
Blair gave a cry of pain and let go of an arm, allowing Tanner to swing his right fist round and hit Sheriff Wilson, before the younger man managed to grab hold of the arm again.
Wilson spat out a tooth, “Keep hold of him.” He increased his grip on the left arm, trying to pin Tanner down, his fingers already soaked in blood from the gunshot wound.
The prisoner was screaming at them in a mixture of Spanish, Kiowa, Comanche and English, the foul language enough to peel the paint from the cell walls.
Doctor Thorpe tipped the brown bottle up and splashed a little Chloroform onto the cloth, and approached, Tanner suddenly went limp and instantly Fuller eased off the prisoner’s legs.
“Finally getting a little sense there Tanner,” Wilson said as he fought to get his breath back. Blair looked up and gave a strained smile to his concerned Sentinel, one that said they now had it under control.
Jim moved forward;, he was sure now that this wasn’t just any old Sentinel, not a Beta or a Gamma, the nearer he got to Tanner, the stronger the vibes coming off him. It could only mean one thing, this was an Apex Sentinel, just like him.
The prisoner, sensing another Apex, raised his head. Sweat or water soaked his long hair, plastering it across his face. Tanner’s lips pulled back in a feral snarl of challenge that seemed to vibrate up from his chest, the vivid blue eyes were ice cold and at the same time blazed with a fury, the flash in them was the only warning Jim got. As Vin Tanner managed to jerk one of his legs free from Fuller and kick the doctor in the groin as he lent over him, in his attempt to escape and attack the other Apex. The Deputy tried to secure him and got a kick in the head that bust his nose and put him down. Even as Vin Tanner tried to get free of the men holding his arms, Jim grabbed the Doctor’s cloth and somehow avoiding the thrashing legs managed to clamp the cloth over the prisoner’s mouth and nose and held on. Vin Tanner slowly went limp under his hand, this time he didn’t move as Blair carefully let go of the prisoner’s right arm.
“Thank god,” Wilson muttered as he let go of Tanner and the Sheriff put a hand to his mouth, and felt around for another loose tooth. “Bastard nearly bust my jaw,” then remembering Doctor Thorpe and his Deputy had been hurt, went to help them. Fuller was still out cold, but Wilson hooked a hand under the Doctor’s arm and managed to pull him to his feet.
Looking across at Vin Tanner, the doctor said, “Once you get him tied down, get Josh to take a look at him. I am not touching that animal again.” Christian charity only went so far and the doctor decided it didn’t include savage murdering renegades like Vin Tanner. Stiffly, one hand pressed his groin, he grabbed his bag and limped out of the cell. Opening the outside door he yelled for two men to give him a hand hauling the unconscious Fuller to his office. Closing the door behind them, then pulling the curtains, Jim cut off the view of the people gawking through the windows, before asking, “You all right Blair?”
His guide was stood rubbing his hand; the Sentinel could see the imprint of teeth marks on the fleshy part of his hand, which he was pretty sure was a perfect fit for Tanner’s teeth.
“Fine, Jim,” he paused “Sorry about letting him go Sheriff.” He offered his hand as proof.
“The bastard bit you, that’s a good enough reason for letting go,” taking off his bandana and was going to gag the prisoner when Blair stopped him, “If he starts throwing up because of the Chloroform, he could choke.”
Wilson swore, and looked at his blood-coated hands, “I best get Josh, at this rate he’s going to bleed to death.” Pausing, he added “What I would like to know is now the hell he could fight like that with a hole in his shoulder.”
“This Josh another doctor?,” Jim asked.
“No, he’s the local horse doctor, but you ask me, it’s good enough for him. When this plan of yours fails - and it will do Ellison, because there is no way a rabid killer like Larabee is going to agree to anything you or Travis are going to say to him - then the day after tomorrow we hang Tanner, and it won’t matter if a doctor or horse doctor works on his shoulder.”
Jim cut across him. “Sheriff Wilson, in the Oriental Saloon, you’ll find a gambler, red coat, Ezra Standish. Bring him in here, and watch out he’s got a derringer strapped to his right arm, plus a shoulder holster and carries a Remington. Get him, and Wilson, leave Josh out of this for the moment.”
“Why Standish?” Then the penny dropped and he remembered, “ Oh, hell, Standish is part of the Larabee gang.” Anger flaring he got right into Jim Ellison’s face. “You might be Travis’s blue eyed boy Ellison, but this is my town, you should have told me about Standish,” Wilson snapped.
“I am now, Sheriff.” The sentinel’s voice was cold.
Wilson, muttering under his breath, left his office. Once out of the office he stopped abruptly, and looked back. What else was Ellison keeping from him?
Once alone, Jim went into the cell, looking down at the unconscious younger man. “He’s a sentinel, you know that?”
Blair nodded. “We found out that the hard way, he’s an Apex.” Jim’s nod confirmed his words as he continued, “Only one of them could dial the pain down enough to fight like that without going into a zone out. He’s also feral, you heard that growling. A feral Apex, never thought I would see one in my life time.”
“Not your life time, remember.”
“He’s well and truly under for the moment, not that he’s going to stay that way long.” Going back into the office, Jim found the shackles and used them to secure the prisoner.
Walking out of the cell he saw the door open and Wilson came in with Standish at gunpoint. The Southern gambler was bleeding from the nose and mouth.
Wilson, seeing that Ellison was about to demand to know what had happened to the gambler he got in first. “Standish didn’t want to come with me, Marshal, I had to change his mind.”
Jim’s hand tightened at his side, as he fought the instinctive action of a Sentinel to protect a guide. It didn’t matter that Standish was not his guide, the very fact the Southern Gambler was a guide was enough to unleash a primal reaction in an Apex Sentinel like Jim Ellison. Without realising it, he moved forward, his hand rising to check the injuries on the smaller man.
“Keep your hands off me, Marshal.” Standish snarled at him. His eyes burned with a hatred that stopped Jim dead in his tracks, his hand dropping down.
Then, Standish was looking past him towards Vin Tanner, and he pushed past Ellison to get to the cell holding his friend.
“What the hell have you done to him, he needs a doctor.”
“That depends on what you have to tell us, Standish.” Jim said coolly.
“Mr Standish,” the southern accent was thicker, as he kept his anger leashed, the hatred masked, the poker face back in place.
“You telegraphed Larabee, and told him that Tanner was here and that he had to arrive before noon. I need to know what he’s going to do, and where Wilmington is.”
Ezra had taken the telegram blank with him, when he had left the Telegraph Office. “A gentleman doesn’t eavesdrop on another man’s private correspondence. But then a Yankee Sentinel is no gentlemen.” Ezra’s lips twitched into a parody of a smile, as he saw the barb go home.
Wilson was looking from Ezra Standish to Jim Ellison, “You’re a Sentinel.” There was disbelief in his voice; he had heard of Sentinels, even saw one once during the Civil War and had heard the rumours about their unnatural habits. Now here was one, and a Marshal, no less.
“A Sentinel, Sheriff Wilson, and Dr Sandburg is my guide, should have been up front with you from the start, but people tend to get a little uneasy when they know.” Jim stated it plainly.
Wilson conceded, “Can see your point Marshal, no harm done.”
But his voice showed his unease.
“So, we know what each other is, Mr Standish, now when is Larabee going to arrive and what’s he going to do?” Jim asked.
“Chris Larabee is a force unto himself, Marshal.” Ezra turned to look at Vin Tanner, “All I can tell you is that if anything happens to Vin, your town is going to run with blood.”
Jim picked up the keys, opened the other cell, “Get in Standish.”
“And you’re arresting me why?”
“Well, let’s start with a warrant for your arrest that Judge Travis swore out on you, for escaping jail.”
“A mere trifle, a misunderstanding Sheriff.” Ezra appealed to Wilson.
But Wilson gave him a push propelling the gambler into the cell.
Blair caught Jim’s arm and pulled him to one side, “We have to get Tanner patched up.” The Sentinel cast his sense over the wounded man; he could detect the faint whiff of corruption among the heavy blood smell, then the increase in body temperature, and then another scent, that came off the younger man. Blair saw the way Jim’s jaw tightened, “What’s wrong?”
But his young guide could see that it was far from nothing, yet he knew better than to press.
“Sheriff, why don’t you go and get something to eat, we’ll take the first watch, no need to hurry back, I’ve got things to discuss with Standish.”
“If he’s-” Wilson began to protest.
“Don’t worry about Standish. We’ve got to patch Tanner up, Blair’s done some doctoring, and he’s got to be better than any local horse doctor.”
“Waste of time Marshal, Tanner’s hanging, all he’s got to be able to do is walk the 12 steps up to the noose.” Wilson spoke with conviction. “The man’s a murdering renegade, lived with savages, and not any better than them. Did you hear what he -”
“Go have your dinner Sheriff, you can spell us at 9.00 o’clock. Jim cut him off in mid-sentence, dismissing him, then added, “Blair, get the medical kit from the wagon.”
All the time they where talking, Ezra had moved as close as he could to Vin, his southern accent had dropped to a soft seductive tone. The smile he gave as Vin slowly began to respond to his voice was very different to the mocking smile he usually favoured the world with. His sentinel was waking.
Blair began to unlock the cell door, when Jim’s hand latched onto the back of his collar, and he was yanked backwards.
“Quit playing possum, Tanner.”
The wounded man slowly eased his legs off the bed as he pushed himself up into a sitting position. The pain was etched on his face, but he still managed a warm smile towards the gambler, which made Jim wonder just how old Tanner actually was.
“This is how it is, the doctor won’t touch you, after you kicked him in the balls,” Jim told him straight.
“Still with your winning ways, I see Mr Tanner,” Ezra put in.
Which was rewarded by a dry chuckle from Vin Tanner.
Jim ignored the gambler. “We’re the next best thing. I was a para-” The Sentinel ground to a halt, remembering just in time what he was about to say, and correcting himself continued. “ I helped out the surgeon a few time during the war, and I know enough to dig out a bullet. We can do it one of two ways; the easy way or the hard way.”
Blair laid the medical kit out, taking the things out and laying them on the table, his back shielding the pressure syringes from view.
The younger man turned round as he heard retching as Tanner lost his battle against the effects of the chloroform.
“You can’t give him morphine,” Standish said, leaning against the bars trying to see what Blair was doing.
“I know, this stuff,” Blair waved a hand at the table, “is Sentinel safe, it will-”
“Can’t use it.” Jim shook his head, “his Sentinel system is already depressed by the chloroform. You’re going to have to talk him through it Standish.”
“Let me out, Marshal”
Jim unhooked the keys from the peg near the desk, tossed them across, and took a deep breath; there was no way the next half hour was going to be good for anyone.
Sheriff Wilson entered the jail, he was surprised to see Standish was now in the same cell as Tanner. Tanner was laid flat, eyes closed, thick bandages encircling his chest and shoulder. His right pants leg had been split and white bandage showed through, as did the circle of bandages on his left hand. His skin look flushed and sweat was beading his face and chest, Standish was sat on the edge of the cot, slowly wiping him down with a cloth, trying to help break the low-grade fever that had begun to build an hour ago.
Seeing the Marshal sat in his chair behind his desk made Wilson’s blood boil, the man looked asleep and that Doctor Sandburg was sat leafing through the wanted posters. Un-natural, oh, they hide it well but everyone knew what Sentinel and Guides got up to, they could hardly keep their hands off each other. And if Tanner and Standish were Sentinel and Guide they were better off hanging from a rope. Ellison and by association Sandburg were law officers, he didn’t want them hurt, but the law sometimes needed a hand.
He coughed. “Marshal Ellison.”
Jim’s feet came down from the edge of the desk. “Evening Wilson. You won’t get any trouble from them, Tanner’s still out cold and Standish is keeping an eye on him. We’ll be at the Saloon if you need us, come on Sandburg.”
Murphy entered the livery stable.
“You took your time, Mr Murphy.” The voice made him spin round, his gun in his hand. “That, mister, is a quick way to end up dead.” Murphy spun his gun and put it back in his holster, and caught the bag of silver dollars thrown to him.
The speaker stepped out of the darkness; there was the sound of a match being struck, and then the glow of a cigar. “Tonight the good citizens of Blue Creek are spontaneously going to make a stand for law and order, and invite Vin Tanner to a necktie party.”
“Why the fuck didn’t you allow me to kill him on the trail, it would have been a lot easier.”
The man’s mouth twisted into a sardonic smile. “Killing Tanner would have deprived you off his company on the trail, and a warm body is a warm body, don’t you agree.” He took a pull on his cigar.
“Tonight you will use that money to get the not so good citizens drunk, and then lead them against the jail house.” He put a hand up to still Murphy’s objection, “the Sheriff is on our side, it didn’t take much to convince him, nauseatingly good man that he usually is, that this was best for the town.”
“What about Ellison, kill a Marshal and-”
“I will take care of Messrs Ellison and Sandburg.” The man said confidently.
“Mr Murphy, the detail is all in the planning, Tanner had to arrive here, his failure to do so would have jeopardised my position, and Mr Murphy, I have worked too long to let that happen. Also, think on this, what do you think Larabee will do tomorrow when he arrives to find Tanner swing from the nearest tree? He’s going to kill anyone who got involved in the lynching, and top of his list is going to be Judge Travis, Marshal Ellison and Sheriff Wilson, three loose ends neatly tied up.”
“What about Sandburg?”
“I’ll deal with the good doctor, now if you want to continue earning your money, you’ll let me do the thinking.” The man dropped his cigar and ground it out with his foot, and then walked out, the light of the moon breaking through just in time to highlight the face of Ian Worth.
Judge Travis had invited Jim and Blair to join him for their evening meal. Both were surprised to see a newcomer with him. The man, when he stood up to shake hands, was taller than the judge, but there was a family resemblance round his eyes and jaw, which was confirmed when Judge Orin Travis made the introductions.
“Marshal Ellison, Dr Sandburg, I would like you to meet my brother, Sheriff Lom Travis. Given his history with Buck Wilmington, I have asked him to join us”.
Over the meal the conversation was kept to general topics, but later when they adjourned to the Judge’s room with a bottle of good whiskey and four glasses, and the Judge and his brother had their cigars lit, the conversation turned to Buck Wilmington.
“So, you’ve met him Sheriff?”
“Sorry, Lom,” Blair corrected.
“Buck Wilmington.” Lom Travis smiled fondly. “That rogue can charm the birds from the trees; a good man”. He paused, and shook his head fondly at some memory or other. “Buck was working as my Deputy at Clear Ridge in the Territories. I was lucky to get him. Buck, for all his liking for the ladies, is a good lawman and fast with a gun, just the type of man you need backing you up. What happened at Clear Ridge was this...”
Sheriff Lom Travis was sitting outside of the Jail, sipping his first cup of coffee of the day and watching the coming and goings of the town. Now, Lom in his time had seen some fast gunmen; Kid Curry was fast, but the newcomer Chris Larabee was even faster. There was something almost inhuman about the way Larabee could draw and fire. What wasn’t widely known was that Kid Curry had only called out and killed one man, and that was only after the man had left him and his partner out in the desert to die. Usually Curry could wing his opponent or just outdraw him, stopping the other man in his tracks, intimidating them with his speed. But Larabee was a professional gunslinger, and every time he was called out he left a corpse cooling in the street. The man, it was said, had the charm of a pissed off rattle snake, and that was when he wasn’t angry. His temper was a thing of legend, and he was known to be a mean drunk. Now that man was in his town, and from where he sat Lom could see Larabee striding down the opposite side of the road, his black duster flapping round his ankles. In his all black clothing he looked like an angel of death. People crossed the road to avoid walking past him; it was as if Larabee’s presence sucked all the light and warmth out of the space he occupied. As he walked past, Larabee’s eyes had fixed on him, making Lom shiver. Sheriff Lom Travis had faced down many killers but Larabee was the first one to actually scare him and he was man enough to admit it.
His attention then settled on the next new arrival. The man was riding a big black horse with a white blaze on its face; his gut instinct was to say buffalo hunter, as he took in the filthy hide coat and the fringed rifle holster. The man wore a slouched old confederate cavalry hat, the brim was pulled down, throwing his face into shadow, and at his hip was a cut down Winchester; a mare’s leg. It was no surprise when he dismounted in front of the saloon, hitching the horse so it could drink its fill from the water trough as he slacked the saddle girth, making the animal comfortable. Something about the man made Lom sit up; going back into the jail he dropped the cup into a bucket of water and began to leaf through the wanted posters. Finally he halted his search.
Buck Wilmington had been enjoying a beer with Sally, one of the working girls, perched on his knee, when he saw the newcomer enter. Vin Tanner; he recognised the man, he had been Deputy at Clarksville when they had brought the butchered men in. Shit, there had been nothing left of them, Tanner had taken a bowie knife to the men it had turned his stomach. Buck drained his beer and whispered a quick promise in Sally’s ear and then eased her off his lap, just as Lom entered, pausing at the swing doors.
Buck went up to the bar next to Tanner and nodded to him. When the younger man turned to look at him, Buck indicated his glass and pushed the money across to the Bartender. “Another one Fred.” Then to Tanner he added, “sure is a hot one.”
Tanner just nodded and went back to his own drink.
Lom didn’t pull his gun until he was nearly up to Tanner, but he had seen Buck and knew his Deputy was ready to back his play.
Buck saw the wanted man tense slightly and realised that the Texan had been watching Lom in the mirror. So, it was no surprise when he heard Lom tell him he was under arrest.
When Tanner spoke there was a rasp to the soft Texas accent, “Not going to happen Sheriff.”
Vin Tanner turned to look at the lawman; there was a certainty in those vivid blue eyes that made the Sheriff almost take a step back. Instantly he knew that the man was as wild and as dangerous as a Comanche warrior.
“I don’t want to shoot you Tanner, but unless you put your gun hand on top of the bar now, that’s the way it’s going to go down.”
There was a long minute and then Tanner did as he was told; Lom took a step forward reaching for the Mare’s leg that the younger man wore instead of a Colt.
Tanner moved fast and Buck was nearly caught out, in one quick movement, Tanner twisted round, his hand knocking Lom’s gun to one side, his left hand fisting a Bowie knife aimed straight for the Sheriff’s stomach.
Buck brought his gun round, cold-cocking the younger man; Tanner’s body slumped to the floor of the Saloon, the Bowie knife falling from his hand.
Buck picked the knife up, “Nearly got you with this pig sticker Lom, that boy is a mean one alright. You okay?”
“Fine.” But even as he said it, Lom Travis knew that it had been a close one.
It was then they heard the scrape of a chair being pushed back; Buck looked up as he turned to face it, Tanner was a loner but you never knew. It was then out of the dark shadow at the back of the saloon he saw the black clad Chris Larabee appear. Buck’s face split into a wide grin. “Chris you old dog, what the hell are you doing here?”
“You know him?” Lom put in.
“Sure, we go back some, Chris and me. Chris, just let me get this murdering scum out of here and-”
“He belongs to me.” Four words, said softly but the tone of voice had the ice-cold bite of winter and for the second time in just a few minutes, Lom felt fear as he tried to meet the glare from the green eyes that bore into him.
“You claiming the reward, Larabee?”
The smile was no improvement; it was like a wolf that had just entered a chicken coop. “No Sheriff, just want what belongs to me”.
Tanner was starting to come round; he managed to get onto his hands and knees, one hand pressed to his head.
“Can you get up, Tanner?”
“Sure, Cowboy.” But the younger man was struggling, clawing at the bar to pull himself up.
Buck’s expression went from surprise to total disbelief; the quickest way to get shot was to call Larabee a Cowboy, and here was Tanner calling him it to his face.
“Help him up, Buck.” It wasn’t a suggestion, it was an order.
Buck Wilmington caught Tanner’s arm and dragged him up, pushing him none too gently against the bar. “Chris, there is no way you’re with this murdering bastard, he’s a renegade, do you know what he did to those men he killed. I was there; I saw the fucking bodies when he was finished with them. I-”
“Get on your horse and get out of town Tanner.”
For a heartbeat, blue eyes met green, and whatever passed between them was enough for the younger man to trust the man in black to watch his back as he staggered out of the saloon.
A few minutes later there was the sound of horse hooves leaving town quickly. Only then did the gun pinwheel on Larabee’s finger and return to his holster, but his hand still rested on the gun.
“You allowed a killer to escape.” Lom snarled at Larabee.
“Going to arrest me for that, Sheriff?” The mockery was in that cold voice. Lom hesitated. “Just get out of town Larabee,” and the Sheriff turned on his heel and walked out of Saloon. He was no fool; Larabee had been spoiling for a fight, wanting him to push it.
Buck looked at this old friend, not sure what was going on but determined to find out. Nodding towards the bar, he said, “Beer.”
“Beer.” Larabee confirmed and headed towards the bar.
Lom Travis poured himself another glass of whiskey, “So, I would have been dead if Buck hadn’t stopped Tanner there and then.”
“So what happened, did you go after him?” Jim asked.
Lom shook his head, “No, Tanner’s a sharpshooter. He can shoot the balls off a fly at 100 yards, no way I was going to hunt him down, a man like that you have to get a jump on.” He took a moment to savour the whiskey. “Anyway, events got out of my hands. Clear Ridge was nice and peaceful, a lot of families arriving from the East, which meant money in the bank. It was robbed that afternoon and two young girls where taken hostage when the robbers escaped. If there were tracks we couldn’t find them; we needed a tracker and fast.”
“Tanner.” Jim supplied the answer.
Lom nodded. “Yeah, Tanner, only how the hell we were going to talk him into helping was something I didn’t even want to think about. So I ended up having to beard the lion in its den”, a smile touched Lom’s lips. “Well, the next best thing, I found Larabee in the Saloon.”
“He agreed to find Tanner and bring him back; I went with him out of good faith. That bastard Tanner clear on parted my hair with a shot, and you know what Larabee did, he laughed, turned out he didn’t know Tanner, they had met for the first time in the bar. Funny thing was, there was a connection between the two of them.”
At that, Blair leaned forward, but a touch on his arm stilled his questions before he could ask them. Lom Travis continued, “Tanner came back because of Larabee; he trusted him to watch his back, and he found the bank robbers for us, hell, they killed those men before they even knew we were there.” Lom shook his head; “He said it was as easy as licking butter off a knife, but hell, there was no one else that could have done what he did.”
“Did you try to arrest him?”
Lom looked Jim Ellison straight in the eye, “no, a deal was a deal. Also, if I was going to try and take Tanner, I would have had to have gone through Larabee, and I don’t have a death wish.” He took another sip of his whiskey, “When they left town, Buck went with them.”
Blair looked up from his notes, “What do you think of the deal the Judge is offering them?”
Lom scratched his chin, “If anyone had told me two months ago that the Governor would offer Hannibal Hayes and Kid Curry amnesty I would have called them a liar, way I see it Orin is just doing that on a larger scale.”
Jim looked at the clock, “We’d best be going, I want to check up on Tanner and Standish. Come on Blair.” He collected his hat and coat. “Thanks for the dinner, Judge.”
Lom put in, “I would like to come with you if that’s okay, look in on Tanner later.”
“No problem, we’re on watch until midnight.”
The Oriental Saloon
Murphy grinned as he took another swig from the whiskey bottle. The crowd in the saloon wouldn’t take long to reach boiling point, and then Tanner would be swinging from the nearest tree.
Jim pushed the door to the jail open and then swore as he rushed in. Wilson was gone and the door to the prisoners’ cell was open.
At the same time, Wilson staggered into the Saloon. “The prisoners have escaped,” he stammered and then collapsed onto the sawdust floor. With a roar the men piled out of the Oriental, as the yell went up to find the prisoners and hang them.
Ian Worth knelt down by the side of the Sheriff, and helped the bartender manhandle the groggy man to the nearest chair. As the bartender scurried off to get him a drink, Worth leaned in close. “Well done, Sheriff.”
The eyes that looked back as him were clear and bright with no trace of any concussion. Wilson had done his part and could expect his reward later.
Blair saw the yelling drunken crowd spill out of the Saloon and hefted the shotgun. He didn’t like guns, but he knew that he would be a liability without one. Already the hunt was on.
Suddenly, Blair halted in his tracks and he turned back to the Jail. Something was very wrong. Pushing open the door, an arm snaked around his throat as he was pulled in the door closed behind him with a bang. Blair found himself looking at Ezra Standish, so the owner of the knife at his throat had to be Vin Tanner. He swallowed hard, as the shotgun was pulled from his hands.
“I knew you would be here.” Blair managed to whisper.
“So where is your Sentinel, the good Marshal Ellison?” Standish asked.
“Looking for you. You have to get out of here, there’s a lynch mob after you.” Blair blurted out.
“Already heard them,” Vin drawled, his voice soft against Blair’s ear, “and you’re our ticket out of here”.
“You have to get to the hotel, Judge Travis will protect you.” Blair pleaded.
“Hanging Judge Travis?” Ezra shook his head at Blair’s stupidity. “You honestly think that we would fall for that Dr. Sandburg? Tell us why we should believe this improbable story.” The southern gambler's voice was ice cold.
“The Judge has a deal for Chris Larabee, that’s why Murphy had to bring Tanner to Blue Creek from Tascosa. He needs something from Larabee.” Blair directed his next words to the man holding a knife at this throat, “and you’re Larabee’s reward Mr. Tanner. You have to believe me, listen to my heartbeat. Vin, you’d know if I was lying.”
Blair breathed a sigh of relief as he felt the knife slowly move from his throat, and he was allowed to step away and turn to face Vin Tanner.
“He’s telling the truth Ez.” Vin confirmed.
The gambler had moved so that he was looking through a slit in the curtains, “Then we had better relocate from these premises Mr Tanner, as quickly as possible, as we are running out of time, and the local population seem to have certain unhealthy designs on our persons.”
Seeing the look of disbelief on the young doctor’s face, a smile twitched at Vin’s lips. “You get used to Ez, he really likes those 10 dollar words.”
Standish shook his head; “Mr Tanner, anyone that can articulate more than four words in a row has the upper hand over you.”
The noise of the lynch mob was getting louder as they searched and became more frustrated. Already some of the empty buildings had windows and doors kicked in, and flames began to catch hold.
Blair chanced a look round the side of one of the buildings; they had gotten out of the jail just ahead of one of the search parties.
He glanced over his shoulder; Vin was leaned against the wall breathing hard, only staying upright by sheer will power and the strong grip of his Guide. But you didn’t have to be a Sentinel to know that Vin Tanner was in a bad way, and wouldn’t be able to go much further.
The next twenty minutes for Blair Sandburg was a living nightmare of the most lethal type of hide and seek; as the two guides manhandled the injured man round the backs of buildings and outhouses, as they made their way to the rear of the Hotel. Finally, they burst into the Judge’s room, Blair yelling “No” as the Judge brought the coach gun to bear on them at the same time his brother threw down on them. Sandburg threw himself in front of the two prisoners, arms outstretched, shielding them from the Judge and Lom Travis.
“It seems you were right Marshal,” Travis said to Jim Ellison as the Sentinel stepped out from where he had been standing out of sight. “Dr Sandburg did get them to come here.”
“Fine Jim, but it did get a bit hairy out there,” he shuddered.
“Standish, lose those guns.” Jim ordered.
The Gambler placed his guns one by one onto the floor. “It seems that we are in your hands, Judge Travis.”
“Get Tanner’s guns, Standish,” Jim added.
Lom Travis kept one eye on the crowd milling around on the street; he swore as he saw the hotel owner rush out, talking quickly then pointing back up to the hotel room.
Startled, they all looked at the Feral Sentinel as Vin chuckled. “Hell.” He cocked his head, his eyes flashing with an unholy light, “You’re in hell and the devil's just arrived.”
It was then that Jim felt it, a presence, like nothing he had ever felt before, dark and forbidding as it rolled into the town. He looked across at Vin Tanner and saw the look on his face, the sardonic smile, the blue fire that flashed
and burned in Vin Tanner’s eyes, then Jim turned to look at Ezra Standish, the gambler, as he just stood there adjusting his cuffs and jacket as if he didn’t have a care in the world. But when he looked up and held Jim’s gaze, Standish’s eyes showed a green fire.
“Jim, er you’d better see this.” Blair has moved to the window when he had felt the vibes ripping through him. He had experienced many Alpha Apex, Beta and Gamma Sentinels, as a guide he felt their psychic fingerprint.
But this was different; the darkness, the anger barely kept in check, the bitterness, a killer, a Predator, oh, god, a Predator Apex, unheard of. Blair’s head snapped round to look at Vin Tanner; there was no way a Predator and a Feral should exist together, they should tear each other apart.
Jim stood looking over Blair’s shoulder, as he saw the horseman appear out of the darkness, the red flames from the fires bathing him in red light across his all black clothing and horse as he made his way towards the hotel.
If a man had come straight out of hell, it was this man. Chris Larabee.
It was something that Blair never thought he would see, one man standing off a whole lynch mob. But that one man looked like he had stepped straight out of Hell.
One of the leaders; a drunk called Matt Brown, took a deep pull from his bottle, and stepped forward. “Get out of the way, Cowboy, we have a savage to string up, right boys?” He waved his bottle in the air, his courage boosted by the angry mob behind him.
“Did he just call me a cowboy Buck?” The man in black asked. His tone was almost friendly, except the smile that twisted his lips was chilling.
“Sure sounded like it, Chris,” a voice answered off to the left, as a tall, dark haired moustached man came into view, a Winchester rifle in his hands. Then he added with a grin, “Old Chris here don’t cotton to being called a Cowboy.”
“Then, Mister, you can get out of the fucking way, come on boys they can’t stop us,” Brown said.
“Larabee, the name’s Chris Larabee,” the man in black’s hand dipped - the colt came out and fired and then pin wheeled back into his holster, the bottle Brown had been holding smashing, drenching him with whiskey.
The lynch mob took a step back, suddenly cold sober; they had all heard of Chris Larabee, the man was a notorious killer.
At the back of the mob, Murphy melted away into the dark. Worth wasn’t paying him enough yet to take on Larabee, and when he did, it wasn’t going to be a fair fight.
Larabee watched the mob disperse, his head tilted slightly to one side, and he looked up at the hotel behind him. Suddenly he spun, his duster flaring out around his heels as he turned and stalked into the hotel.
Leaving Buck Wilmington to follow him, shaking his head in amusement. Chris was as angry as a pissed off rattler coming off a five day drunk, God help the men holding Vin Tanner.
In the room, Jim swore and then brought his gun up, cocking it, “One more word out of you Tanner, and I’ll lay you out.”
“Marshal, Tanner hasn’t said anything,” Lom Travis said, his face showing his puzzlement.
“He’s talking to Larabee; it’s sub-vocal, all I can hear is a rumble, but he’s talking to him.”
Jim turned to face the door as it all but came off its hinges, and Larabee stood there.
As the green-eyed gunman’s gaze swept over the occupants of the room, Blair saw the light in them flare to flames as they focused on Tanner and Standish. “That’s impossible,” Blair breathed, then stumbled back a step as those same green eyes bore into him. Before finally they found Jim Ellison and locked on him and burned with a killing fury.
Jim recognised Larabee from his photograph; the good-looking blond was just as imposing as his picture. He could feel the black aura that poured off him; it was dark, cold and dangerous.
Chris Larabee’s attention fixed onto Judge Orin Travis. “You wanted me here Judge, I am here.” Straight and to the point.
Orin Travis decided pleasantries were a waste of time. “A simple deal Larabee; there’s a town called Four Corners in the New Mexico Territory, it’s lawless, the locals are being run off by-”
“Get to the point, Judge,” Larabee cut across him impatiently.
Judge Orin Travis banked his anger down. “I need peacekeepers that aren’t going to be run off, and in return for one year of peacekeeping, I will look into the murder charges currently outstanding on Mr Tanner.”
“No,” Larabee said. “You’ll drop the murder charges; when Vin killed those men he was a sentinel revenging the murder of his family, it’s allowed.”
“I know the law Mr Larabee, so what I have to ask is why Mr Tanner didn’t tell the authorites he was a Sentinel,” Judge Travis put in levelly.
“I isn’t a sentinel, I am a Guardian,” Vin snarled, “and they didn’t care, said that because my family was Indian it didn’t count,” the Texas accent got thicker as he fought to control his emotions. “ My Ma Little Deer was cut from her privates to her throat, and my kid sister was raped and gutted. She was 9. My Pa Black Crow had his head cut off with an axe; all of them was scalped. I was told to forget it, they were just savages.” Ezra reached out his hand, wrapping it around Vin’s arm as the tracker halted; the memories flooding through him as he saw again the carnage left by the scalp hunters. The touch of his guide’s hand steadied the Sentinel, stopping him going feral as he nearly lost control of his emotions.
“I am truly sorry, Mr Tanner,” Judge Travis’s voice showed his sincerity. “You must believe that if this had been brought in front of me, I would certainly not have allowed this injustice to have happened.” He paused. “Even so, most men would agree, that how you exacted your revenge surpassed the usual bounds of civilized behaviour.”
“I aint civilized Judge, that’s the truth, so you can’t expect me act like it.”
“Judge,” Blair said, “Mr Tanner is a Feral Apex Sentinel; I can vouch for the fact that for a Feral the violence of the revenge would have been logically allowed. I’d sign a statement to this effect, and I would stand up in court and say it.”
Travis nodded; he didn’t understand all the in’s and out’s about Sentinels but the doctor did and he would speak to him later in more detail, however at the moment he had a deal to seal. “During this year, I will look into the murder of Jess Kincaid, of which you stated at your trial your innocence. If at the end of that time I am satisfied, you’ll be cleared Mr Tanner, and all the posters will be cancelled. That is the deal I am offering.”
“If I run?” Vin asked.
“Then Mr Tanner, I will issue a reward of $5,000 dollar reward - Wanted Dead - and wait for your corpse to be brought in. During the year the reward poster will still circulate, I can’t recall them. But I can make sure that if you’re ever brought in to any of the surrounding towns, Mr Larabee is the first person notified and offer protection if any lawmen come to Four Corners.” The Judge paused. “It’s late; think on it, and give me your answer tomorrow.”
“It’s not safe for them to go back to the jail, I think it’s better if they use Blair’s room. He can bunk in mine, and I’ll keep watch on the landing,” Jim said.
Leaning against the door frame was Buck Wilmington; he had arrived on the heels of Chris Larabee, watching his back for him. For a big man he moved silently and had been overlooked, something that could, Jim knew, have proven fatal because he effectively countered any play that Lom Travis might have made.
“You take Vin, and I’ll keep the Marshal company, Chris.”
“Marshal.” The title was said deceptively mildly. Jim didn’t see the blow coming, the right cross putting the Sentinel down, and even as he hit the floor he was looking up into the gun of Chris Larabee.
“Chris, no,” Ezra yelled and started forward only to be pulled back by Vin.
“He shot Vin, you expect me to let that go Ez?”
“No, of course not, but he could have killed Mr Tanner-”
Jim saw the slightest twitch of Larabee’s finger on the trigger.
“Thanks Standish, I really needed you to remind him of that,” Jim drawled sarcastically as he rubbed his aching jaw.
“My pleasure, Marshal,” Ezra said then added, “but my point is Mr Larabee that the Marshal was very careful not to seriously injure Mr Tanner, and he has helped to patch him up so that he will recover fully from his wounds. Also, I don’t think that the Judge would be happy for us to accept the deal if you splatter the floor with the good Marshal’s brains. And that deal would be Mr Tanner’s salvation.”
For a moment there was deathly silence, then, “Remember this Marshal, Tanner is mine, and you touch him again and I’ll kill you – and the same goes for Standish.”
As quick as it was pulled, the gun went back into its holster. Only then did Buck, Lom and the Judge lower their weapons.
Once in the bedroom, Vin made straight for the window.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Chris asked, as he began to shed his long black duster, his flat brimmed hat already hanging off the nearest chair.
“Out of here.”
Vin was tugging at the window, which wouldn’t open.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Although his words were softly spoken, there was an aggression to them that would have scared most men shitless.
But Vin ignored it and kept tugging at the window, why the hell wouldn’t it open? He had to get out of here; he couldn’t be trapped in the room.
A black clad arm wrapped round his waist, carefully avoiding the bandages, a face pressed to the side of his neck as he heard the other sentinel inhaling his scent trying to calm him down. But Vin wasn’t ready yet; he had to get out of there.
His good elbow came back hard catching Chris in the side, as Vin spat “Fuck off, Larabee,” and twisted free, bolting for the door.
“You little bastard,” Chris exploded, gasping for breath, and sprang across the double bed that took up the centre of the room, bringing Vin crashing down, the older man trying to control the fall. Chris took the brunt of the landing and the tracker was already scrambling up, and reaching for the door when a heavy weight hit his back. Vin couldn’t stop a scream of pain from his bad shoulder and for a moment everything almost blacked out as he was pushed up against the door.
Chris knew that the younger man was weakening, he could feel the slight fever radiating off the slender body as he pinned him with his full body weight against the door. But Vin still wasn’t about to give up yet as he was manhandled round to face the angry Predator Sentinel, his Alpha. Vin lashed out with a fist; the blow was hard enough to make Chris lose his grip long enough for the younger man to push him backward and yank open the door, almost making it onto the landing.
“Get your scrawny ass back in here,” Chris bellowed, as with a throated growl, he lunged forward, his weight smashing into Vin, sending him down face first on to the carpet. A knee in the back kept the younger man down, even as he snarled and spat curses at the older sentinel in at least three Indian dialects, Spanish and English.
Buck caught hold of Jim Ellison and pulled him back, ignoring the glare he got for touching him even as Jim broke his hold on his arm.
“Best leave well alone, the old dog’s going to have to put the pup in his place.”
Then Vin was dragged up; when he struggled, he was cuffed across the back of the head, an attention getter, and was dragged back into the room.
The door slammed shut, and Vin found himself spun round and pushed up against it. When he brought his knee up hard, the older man managed to twist out of the way, and banged Vin back against the door hard enough for it to rattle on it’s hinges.
For a moment, Vin blacked out, his body still pinned by Chris Larabee, one knee pushed up between his thighs anchoring him in place to stop the limp body falling down to the floor. It was then that he came round, memories crashing down on him from his time on the trail, of Murphy and his men, touching, and taking what they wanted from him. Even bound he had still fought them and he wasn’t going to give up now.
Chris had his arms full of struggling and cursing Vin Tanner; locked into the memories the Predator did the only thing it knew - it used its superior strength over the now rapidly weakening Feral Pup and pulled him into a full body hug. Making a safe, protected place for him in his arms.
The young feral snarled at his older dominant Predator; it had been alone too long to give up control and snapped at him as he lent in to scent the Feral's throat, the Predator catching a handful of the long hair near the scalp and pulling Vin’s head sideways, growling a warning. The Feral had to learn to accept that he was no longer alone, and that the Predator would protect him as his Alpha Sentinel, and as a man, as his friend. This time the younger feral submitted, with only soft growls voicing its protest.
The deep growl of the Predator grew louder as it detected the scent of Ellison and other men on his soul mate, but under that was the scent of sex and fear. When the younger man would have dropped his head, the Predator wouldn’t allow him, and rubbed his face against the younger Feral, giving him his protection and his strength. Green eyes met blue and the fire arched between them; the heat and the intensity grew. Suddenly, the Predator stopped. The Feral, with a snarl, nipped at his Alpha’s throat and chin to get his attention. The Predator calmed his young Feral, and eased him away from the door to sit on the bed. Now that the feral had calmed, the Predator knelt down in front of him. Chris reached out, and undid Vin’s shirt when the younger man fumbled with the buttons. “I’ll get it, Vin.” Chris’s voice was soft and caring, something that to anyone that knew his reputation would never have believed he was capable of. Easing the shirt open, he checked the bullet wound, and frowned as he saw the blood stains on the white bandages. Rising, he helped Vin shed his buckskin jacket and then the shirt.
“I’ll get Dr Sandburg.”
“No.” Vin grabbed for his hand, “In the morning.”
Seeing the need in the younger man, Chris nodded. Then his head suddenly cocked towards the door.
Ezra Standish was stood talking to Jim and Buck, his back to the door, when it opened and a black clad arm snaked out. A hand latched onto the back of Standish’s jacket and he was hauled backward into the room, the door closing behind him.
Jim started forward only to be blocked by Buck Wilmington.
There was a crack from a derringer, followed by a blood-curdling roar.
Then, an indignant squawk from the room which sounded suspiciously like the normally unflappable southerner, and on it’s heels the crack of a second derringer bullet being fired.
“Next time, Mr Tanner, it’ll be your-” Ezra broke off then.
“Keep your hands off me, that’s a $20 dollar shirt.”
“You can’t Mr Larabee, I forbid that, I am your guide, not a chew toy.”
There was a loud yelp, and “unhand me sir!” Then a sound of a fist on flesh and a cry of pain.
There was a loud bang at the door as if someone was again struggling to get out.
“Easy, Ellison,” Buck warned, “that would have been Ezra, he don’t like being manhandled.”
The noise that emerged next sounded like something had just collapsed.
Buck cocked his head; this was something he was well versed in as he offered up the option. “Sounds like the bed just collapsed,” he grinned at Jim, and then added as if by way of explanation. “It’s okay, they won’t hurt Ez, at the moment he’s as pissed off as a wet hen, but he’ll get over it. He’s as safe with those two as a club with its Mama.” Settling himself down, Buck made himself comfortable - it was going to be a long night.
It was the early hours of the morning when Lom Travis took over from Jim, and he made it back to his room. Somehow he wasn’t surprised when he saw Blair was still awake.
“How did it go?”
“Standish is in with them now, it sounded a bit extreme, but it’s all settled down.” Jim accepted the glass of whiskey and lowered himself into the only chair in the room. “Mind explaining to me what the hell is going on?”
Blair was all but bouncing with suppressed energy. “For God’s sake sit down Darwin, you’re making me tired just looking at you.”
“This is so, so, out of this world man - a Predator and a Feral, no one’s reported on seeing them in the last hundred years.” He paused, “Okay, so that’s not relevant, but Jim, I get the chance to study them up close.”
“And get your head blown off.”
“Blair, these men are dangerous, remember what Simon said. Hell, you didn’t hear the claiming that went on before Standish arrived, I though they were going to kill each other.”
Jim drowned his whiskey and reached for the bottle, ignoring the question.
”Please Jim, what happened,” Blair pleaded.
“The Predator claimed and dominated the Feral. From what Buck was saying, Chris had been tearing up the countryside trying to find Vin before he hung. It appeared that Vin had done his disappearing act, after Chris told him he couldn’t go off on his own, and that was when he was caught, so Vin’s ass was grass where the Predator was concerned. He had to bring the Feral pup in line.”
“Yeah, that’s what Buck called him.”
“Jim, Larabee is not putting together a gang or a clan, he’s putting together a PACK.” Blair started to pace. “We have never understood the dynamics of the Predator. Chris would have had to have been an Alpha Apex – now, he was married, so the odds are that his wife might have been his guide.”
“Buck is a Gamma Sentinel, but-”
“He has guide in him as well, I could feel it, so it might be that between his wife and Buck, Chris was keeping a balance, but when his wife and child, died, he burned out, and instead of killing himself, which many would have, unable to function, Chris Larabee became a Predator, and that darkness closed in around him. In Vin Tanner he found a friend, and the Predator found a young Feral that needed him, and the one man that, no matter what his persona is, be it man or Predator, never backs down from him. And the reason we don’t get them now is that in the case of the guide dying, we have the medical technology to help them, until they can bond again. Same with the Feral, any over aggressive Sentinel is helped with drugs to maintain their balance.”
“Nature should take its course, Blair. So, because of science we have lost the Predator and the Feral, and only the Alpha Apex remains. How long before they castrate us Alpha Apex, because an Apex is too dangerous and they only allow the tamer beta and submissive Gamma to exist?”
“I just don’t know Jim,” Blair’s excitement drained out of him, as he thought over what Jim had just said.
Jim put his glass down, and then reached out for Blair, allowing his own fire to come up into his eyes, as the need to bond and join with his guide began to overwhelm him. Without fear, Blair stepped into the Sentinel’s personal space, wrapping an arm round his waist and leaning to place his head over Jim’s heart. A feeling of being cherished and protected washed through him.
Murphy was pushing his clothing into his saddle bags, “if they let Tanner go there is no way I am hanging around, that bastard is going to come after me with that pig sticker of his.”
“If you had done your job he would be hanging by now,” Worth put in levelly.
“How the fucking hell was I suppose to know that Larabee was going to turn up?” Murphy exploded.
“That is now a moot point, Mr Murphy. I want you and your partner to get to Four Corners ahead of Larabee and his gang, and you start working on the townspeople; Travis’s idea can’t work if the local people are against them.
As an idea, see Mary Travis and make sure she is aware of Mr Larabee’s reputation as a bad element. The woman is as prim and prissy as they come, she won’t even let working girls ply their trade from the saloon. She is one of the leaders of the community, due to the fact Travis is her father in law, and she runs the local paper. Paint her a really good picture of what to expect.”
Blair halted outside the door to Chris Larabee’s room, as the door flew open.
“No, Mr Larabee, black does not go with this jacket and waist coat.” Ezra held a buckskin coat between his fingers and thumb, “and I will not wear your jacket, Mr Tanner.”
“What’s wrong with it,” Vin demanded, indignant that Ezra would turn down a chance to wear his much prized coat.
“What, indeed, is right with it?” He tossed the coat to Vin and with a shudder walked out of the room. The southerner touched two fingers to the brim of his hat in greeting to his fellow guide, “Sentinels.” One word that spoke volumes, then with a smile that flashed his gold tooth, he walked away.
Judge Travis looked at the four men in front of him. “Well, do I have your answer, Mr Larabee?”
“You have your deal, Judge.”
“Dr Sandburg and Marshal Ellison will escort you to Four Corners, that way we can guarantee Mr Tanner arrives there.”
“You think I would go back on my word?” Chris growled.
“No, Mr Larabee, but with bounty hunters still out there, I want to make sure that he arrives.”
Jim handed Vin his mare’s leg and the two other knives he carried. And for the second time in 24 hours he found himself looking up at the ceiling.
“No Sentinel touches me, Ellison. Remember that.” Vin said with a snarl, then suddenly a smile lit up his face and the vivid blue eyes. Reaching down with his good hand as he helped Jim back to his feet, he said in that soft, rasping Texas-accented voice, “ I know I shouldn’t hit my elders but you had it coming,” he grinned at Larabee before adding, “You’re near on as old as Chris here,” then ducked a side swipe from his friend.
Once on his feet Jim rubbed his jaw; Vin packed one hell of a punch for his slender build, but then the man was all lean muscle, not an ounce of fat on his body from what he had seen. Jim knew he and Blair would have to keep on their toes if this was going to work.
End of Part One
 The character Sheriff Lom Travis is from the series Alias Smith and Jones.
 Kid Curry as depicted in the series Alias Smith and Jones, played by Ben Murphy
 The two outlaws Hayes and Curry had to go straight for a year in order to get their amnesty but during that time were still wanted: Alias Smith and Jones.