Magnificent Seven: Trail to Tascosa

by The Traveling Dime Store Novelist

This series of stories takes place, as the title suggests, on the way to Tascosa to clear Vin’s name. The tales will follow one another chronologically and will keep to stories involving only the seven men with no romantic entanglements or off-the-wall characterizations (I hope!). As the characterizations are based on my observations, they may not agree with your own, as we all see the world from our own unique perceptions. If anyone would like to send comments, you can send them to me at my e-mail address at the end of the story.

DISCLAIMER: The following stories are works of fan fiction. They are not intended to infringe upon the copyrights of CBS, The Mirisch Group, MGM, Trilogy, or anyone else who may have legal claim on "The Magnificent Seven". I do not claim the characters or concept, and the only profit I get is the enjoyment of writing the stories and sharing them with other fans.

Story Four

"Chains of the Past"

by The Traveling Dime Store Novelist


"I don’t like this one bit, Chris," Buck Wilmington stated, removing his hat and tossing it on to the middle of the liquor-stained table.

JD Dunne took the chair next to Buck and shook his head in response to the unspoken question in the other four men’s eyes. His uncharacteristically somber expression foretold his bad news. "No message from Nathan at the telegraph office."

"Maybe the child decided to prolong its entry into the world," Ezra Standish commented as he played a game of solitaire. An expert poker player, and con man when the situation demanded it, Ezra was unable to hold his hands idle for any length of time.

"Three days is an awful long time for a woman to be givin’ birth," Vin Tanner said, worry evident in his blue eyes.

"And if he was going to be this late, he would’ve sent us a message," Josiah Sanchez added. The former preacher toyed with his empty whiskey glass. "I’ll ride back to Lancaster and find out what’s goin’ on."

Chris Larabee, the unspoken leader of the seven men, glanced at Vin whose grim expression told him he wasn’t about to continue to Tascosa without Nathan. Chris shook his head. "We all go."

Although it meant a two day ride back the way they’d come, his companions’ approval didn’t surprise Chris. Nathan Jackson was the healer of the group, although it wasn’t only physical wounds he treated. His thoughtful insights had often stopped the others from jumping into a fray, and he’d become their collective conscience. Sometimes he struck a nerve as he often did with Ezra, but his quiet ways always acted as a soothing force to the band of diverse men. If something had happened to Nathan, Chris wasn’t sure what would hold him and the other five men back from seeking vengeance since it was Nathan himself who usually spoke with a voice of humanity and reason. A voice the six men needed more than Chris wanted to admit.

Where the hell was he?


Nathan touched the lump at the back of his head and groaned. He pulled his hand away, cursing silently at the blood on his fingers. The last thing he remembered was walking out of the saloon in Lancaster, where he’d gone to have a drink to celebrate the birth of a healthy baby boy. He’d only delivered a few babies, and each time the joy of the miracle never ceased to humble him. As a stretcher bearer in the Union Army, he’d seen more death than he’d ever wanted to in his lifetime, so the entrance of a new life into the world always touched him profoundly. Even now, his head throbbing, Nathan managed a slight smile at the memory of the birth.

"’Bout time you woke up."

He turned his head to see a black woman staring down at him. She wore a drab gray dress held together by patches. An equally faded scarf was wrapped around her head but a few strands of white hair had escaped the confines.

"Who are you?" he asked in confusion.

"You can call me Corrine," she said with a thick southern accent. "You got a name?"

"Nathan Jackson."

"It’s just Nathan now."

He frowned. "What do you mean?"

"You know where you’re at?" Corrine motioned to the dingy dimness of the shelter with a thin, work-worn hand.

For the first time Nathan realized he was lying on a coarse blanket on a dirt floor. "Last I remember I was in Lancaster."

"I ain’t surprised." She sighed. "You ain’t a free man no more, Nathan."

Confusion sliced through the eddies of pain in Nathan’s head. "What’re you talkin’ about?"

Before she could speak, a heavyset white man barreled in, wearing clothes in considerably better shape than Corrine’s. "How long has he been awake?" he demanded.

Corrine folded her arms over her chest and raised her chin. "He just done woke up, and he ain’t in any shape to go out into the field."

"He’s alive and that’s all that counts." The man stabbed a thumb over his shoulder, toward the door. "C’mon nigger, time to earn your keep."

Anger surged through Nathan, bringing him to his feet. His head spun and his stomach lurched, but he swallowed back the bile. "I ain’t your ‘nigger’ and last I heard, no man owned another."

The stranger threw back his head and barked a harsh laugh. "You ain’t a man, you’re the boss’ property. And if you don’t do what you’re supposed to, he’ll get rid of you like he would a tool that ain’t no good anymore."

Was his head wound making him imagine this craziness? Nathan blinked, but the brutish man didn’t disappear. He glanced at Corrine, who studied him silently, her expression neutral. Nathan would go along with this insanity until he learned more about what kind of hell he’d stumbled into.

With a bracing breath, Nathan pushed aside the canvas flap and walked out of the crude shelter. He put a hand to his eyes as he blinked rapidly. When his eyes finally adjusted to the bright sun, Nathan could make out a field of cotton spread out before him. Throughout the field, he spotted Negroes bent over working among the crop. Time spun backwards when Nathan had been a slave for a plantation owner in Mississippi. He thought those days were gone, destroyed by the War Between the States, yet here was a piece of the past in some godforsaken area of southern Texas.

"I figure you know what to do so get to it," the overseer stated and gave Nathan a shove toward the field.

He glanced back at the man, who put a hand on the coiled whip hanging from his belt. The scars on Nathan’s back seemed to tighten with his gut muscles.

Where the hell was he?

By the time the sun set, Nathan’s entire body throbbed with agony. As he hobbled along with the others, he tried to talk to some of his fellow prisoners. He refused to think of themselves as slaves. Those terrible days were in the past.

"What is this place?" he asked in a low voice.

The man he asked merely shook his head and picked up his pace to move away from him. Nathan clenched his jaw and turned to a boy about twelve or thirteen who walked with the slow, measured steps of an old man.

"How long you been here?" Nathan asked him.

The boy shrugged. "Maybe a year, maybe more. I don’t know."

"You don’t know?"

"Me and my folks were just travelin’ down the road when we was taken by these men and brought here."

"Where are your folks now?"

"Pa’s dead. Ma works at the big house, so I don’t see her much."

Nathan’s heart twisted for the boy’s anguish. "I never knew my pa and I never saw my ma after I started workin’ the cotton. That was before the war, when we was forced to be slaves."

"Pa tried tellin’ the men that we were free now, but they wouldn’t listen. They whipped Pa bad, but he wouldn’t give up." His huge dark eyes filled with sorrow. "Not ‘til they shot him in the back when he was tryin’ to escape."

Despite Nathan’s own pain, he put an arm around the boy’s shoulders as they walked back to the flimsy shelter that housed them. Uncertain where he was to sleep, Nathan stood awkwardly in the center of the dirt floor.

"You can have the blanket my pa had," the boy volunteered.

Touched by his offer, Nathan smiled. "What’s your name?"


"You got a last name?"

"Lawrence." He stared at Nathan a moment. "Nobody’s asked me that in a long time."

"You remember it good, Tommy, ‘cause one of these days we’re gonna leave this place and you’ll need it," Nathan said softly.

Tommy’s eyes brightened for the first time since Nathan had met him. "Let’s go get some supper."

"Where do we do that?"

"C’mon, I’ll show you."

Stifling a groan of physical exhaustion, Nathan followed the boy and hoped he stayed awake long enough to eat.


Tired and dusty, the six men dismounted in front of one of Lancaster’s six saloons.

"We’ll split up so we can cover more ground," Chris stated, loosely wrapping his big black’s reins around the hitching post.

The men divided into pairs, Vin going with Chris, Buck and JD moving off together, and Josiah and Ezra walking across the street.

Chris and Vin entered a smoky cantina, instinctively stepping to the side so they wouldn’t be outlined by the light streaming in behind them. Stale beer, cheap cigars, and unwashed bodies mingled into a familiar odor Vin recognized from a hundred other saloons.

Chris glanced at him and Vin motioned to a piece of the bar that was unoccupied, and the two men moved shoulder to shoulder toward it.

"Whiskey," Chris said to the heavyset barkeeper.

Vin held up a finger, motioning for another.

The bartender poured two shots of whiskey, then scooped up the coins Vin and Chris laid down.

"We’re looking for someone," Chris began.

"You and everybody else," the fat man said in a bored voice.

"He’s a friend of ours," Vin added.

"A black man, a little taller than me. Would’ve been through here four, five days ago," Chris said.

"Nope, ain’t seen him," the bartender stated, then turned away.

With the speed of a striking rattler, Vin grabbed the man’s arm and jerked him against the bar. He kept his tone low and deadly. "Iffen you know something about him, you’d best tell us. You see, Nathan is a good friend of ours and we wouldn’t take kindly to anyone withholdin’ information about him."

The barkeep’s pig-like eyes bulged and he shook his head. "Look, I ain’t seen a darky around here for a long time."

Vin backhanded the man, then shoved him away. He stumbled against the shelves of liquor, nearly toppling several to the floor.

"What the hell was that for?" the bartender demanded, holding his palm against his red cheek.

"Poor manners," Vin replied.

He touched the brim of his hat with two fingers in a mocking salute, and he and Chris left.

They paused on the boardwalk and Chris sidled a glance at Vin, his lips tilted upward. "If I’d known you were so good at playin’ mean, I’d let you do it more often."

Vin shook his head somberly. "I wasn’t playin’. My gut tells me he knows more than he’s sayin’."

"Think he knows where Nathan is?"

Vin frowned. "I don’t know, but there’s somethin’ goin’ on." He gazed at Chris intently. "Remember when you were at that hellhole in Jericho?"

Chris glanced away, but not before Vin saw his jaw clench and his face plane into sharp angles. Chris nodded curtly.

"Well, when me and the boys were snoopin’ around town tryin’ to find you, everybody seemed to be hidin’ some big secret." Vin paused and looked around the town, noting the women dragging little children behind them and men sitting on the boardwalk, swapping tobacco and lies. "That’s how I feel right now."

From beneath his wide brim, Chris surveyed the main street. "Let’s check the livery next."

Across the street in the general store, Buck and JD approached the storekeeper who stood behind the counter shining an apple on his apron front.

"Afternoon," the bespectacled man greeted with a smile.

"Howdy," Buck replied.

"Is there something in particular you’re looking for?"

"A man."

The storekeeper blinked, then regained his composure. "Can you be any more specific?"

"A friend of ours passed through here a few days ago, black man by the name of Nathan Jackson. ‘Bout my height."

He thought for a moment. "Oh, yes, I remember him. Had real nice manners. He bought some cloth for bandages. Said he was a healer."

"That was him," JD piped up. "When did he leave?"

"Must’ve been about four days ago. He said he was meeting some friends."

Buck and JD exchanged concerned looks.

"He never made it," Buck said grimly.

"I’m sorry to hear that," the storekeeper said sincerely, then added, "maybe he stopped someplace along the way."

JD shook his head. "We backtracked the whole ways and ain’t nobody seen him."

The man’s eyes held sympathy. "I’m sorry. I wish I could help you."

"Me, too," Buck muttered, and strode to the door.

"Thanks," JD said politely, and followed Buck out.

After they’d gone, a woman came through the curtain behind the counter, her expression a mixture of fear and anger. "We can’t let this go on, Asa."

Asa Hamilton, the store’s proprietor, shook his head. "What can we do? If we say anything, we may as well pack a wagon and leave tonight. He owns this town, Eloise, and there’s nothing we can do to stop him."

"But all those people…" His wife crossed her arms. "It’s just not right."

"I know," Asa replied in a frustrated tone that said they’d had the same argument numerous times before. "I don’t like people like their friend being used either, but if we go against him, it wouldn’t surprise me if he had us taken or killed, too."

Eloise pressed her palm to her mouth as her eyes filled with tears. "Maybe we should sell the store. Move on. There’s nothing holding us here."

"We’re making a good living here."

"Only because people like that nice man Nathan and all the others are being treated like animals."

"It isn’t our concern, Eloise," he said firmly. "Did you get the bill of lading checked against our list?"

Eloise bit her lower lip and nodded reluctantly. But her gaze strayed to the window where she could see the two strangers continuing to search in vain for their friend.

"If you want to check in the saloon, I’ll go across the street to the hardware store," Josiah suggested.

Ezra nodded in agreement and turned into the most elegant looking saloon in town, The Green Table Emporium. In spite of his worry for Nathan, Ezra’s gambling instincts told him this would be the place he could make a killing, figuratively speaking, of course. He entered the establishment and paused in the doorway as his thirsty gaze drank in the sights and smells. Instead of the usual stench, The Green Table Emporium smelled of fresh sawdust and cherry smoke from expensive cigars.

Glancing at his dull red coat, he tried to brush some of the offending dust from the material. He pulled a handkerchief from his breastpocket and mopped his brow, grimacing when he saw the dirt on the white cloth.

"Welcome to the Green Table Emporium."

Ezra turned to see a handsome woman with thick brown hair and startling violet eyes. As she drew closer, he could see a few lines in her tastefully powdered face and guessed her to be in her late forties. Probably close to his mother’s age. He smiled gallantly.

"My, my, a vision of loveliness amidst an ocean of pallor," Ezra said in his most charming voice.

Her kohl-shadowed eyes widened slightly, then her smile grew. "You’re a long ways from home, Mister – "

"Ezra Standish at your service, ma’am." He took her hand and gently pressed his lips to the back of it.

"Mr. Standish, what a pleasure to find a man of such culture here in Lancaster." She eyed his disheveled clothing. "I see you’re a traveling man."

"That’s correct, Miss -- " he waited for her to reciprocate.

"Lottie Robertson," she replied. "And this is my place."

Ezra’s brow shot up. He didn’t often run into a female saloon owner. "My compliments, my dear Miss Robertson."

"Actually, it’s Misses, although I’m a widow. But please call me Lottie. All my friends do," she said without the coquetry of inexperienced youth.

"It’d be my pleasure, Lottie."

She put her hand through the crook of his arm. "Come on, I’ll introduce you to a special friend of mine. I think you two will have much in common."

Puzzled and curious, Ezra allowed her to lead him between the poker and faro tables, and around the roulette wheel. A monstrous chandelier shone so brightly it almost hurt one’s eyes to gaze upon it, and shiny silver spittoons were placed discreetly so as not to offend sensibilities. A tasteful mural of a Rubenesque semi-nude adorned the wall behind the gleaming mahogany bar.

Lottie took him into a back room that Ezra assumed was for higher stakes games. They went directly to a table with four men, all prosperous by the looks of their haberdashery. And Ezra wished he could’ve cleaned up before being paraded in front of a wealthy group of suckers such as this.

One of the men, a steel gray-haired man with twinkling blue eyes, looked up at Lottie. His curious gaze flickered across Ezra. "Who’s your new friend, my dear?" he asked with a southern drawl that sounded distinctly familiar.

"Ezra Standish, this is -- " Lottie began.

"Stewart Randolph," Ezra finished, staring at the middle-aged man.

Randolph blinked, looked closer at Ezra and recognition filled his eyes. "Ezra Standish, Maude’s little boy." He stood and grabbed Ezra’s hand, shaking it vigorously.

"Not so little anymore, sir," Ezra said respectfully.

Randolph’s gaze traveled up and down Ezra as if not believing his own eyes. "How long has it been, son?"

"Since before the war," Ezra replied.

Randolph sobered and the twinkle disappeared. "The aggression of the north, you mean."  

Ezra didn’t blame the man for his bitterness. He’d been a successful plantation owner until the war, then Sherman had blazed a fiery trail through the south, destroying everything in his way, including Randolph’s mansion.

"I didn’t know you’d come west to start anew," Ezra commented.

"Where else was there for me to go?" He blinked, and the sparkle reappeared in his eyes. "So what have you been up to these past years?"

"That, sir, is a long story and before I entertain you with it, I would like to bathe and change into something more suitable for such illustrious company."

"Did you just get into town?"

"Not more than an hour ago."

"Why don’t you come back here for dinner? I know for a fact Lottie has the finest French cook this side of the Mississippi."

"Yes, please, I’d love to hear your stories also," Lottie interjected.

"It would be my pleasure," Ezra said. "Now, if you’ll excuse me, I shall go make myself presentable."

With one last look at the man from his past, Ezra left the back room and walked through the gambling hall, using every ounce of willpower not to sit down and join in a poker game. Out on the boardwalk, he paused, realizing he’d been so surprised to see Randolph there, he hadn’t asked about Nathan. Frowning to himself, Ezra doubted if Nathan would’ve gone into such an establishment. He preferred less ostentation. But if he had a chance, he’d ask Lottie and Stewart if they’d seen him.

Josiah came out of a building a couple doors down and Ezra joined him.

"Anything?" Ezra asked.

Josiah shook his head, his expression forbidding. "A man just doesn’t disappear without a trace. Somebody had to have seen him."

"Maybe the others had better luck."

"Maybe," Josiah said dubiously.

They met Chris, Vin, Buck, and JD in a saloon across the street, and joined them around a table stained with liquor and scarred by overzealous drunks.

"Any luck?" Chris asked.

"Not a sign," Ezra replied.

"The only person who admits to seein’ him is the storekeeper," Vin added.

"Perhaps the store was the only place he visited," Ezra said.

"It’s possible," Chris said, though his tone said otherwise.

"I say we bust a few heads and see what falls out," Buck exclaimed.

"Has anybody checked with the sheriff?" Chris asked, ignoring Buck’s outburst. "Me and Vin didn’t." He didn’t have to explain why.

"I’ll go," JD volunteered.

"I’ll back ya up," Buck said.

Although the boy had come a long ways since he’d joined the group, Chris felt better with Buck accompanying him. And he didn’t have to worry about Buck keeping an eye on him; sometimes he damn near smothered him. Of course, since the cattle drive with Barkley, Buck and JD’s relationship had changed some. It seemed to Chris that Buck treated him more like an equal rather than a kid. That didn’t mean he had stopped teasing the boy; hell, if that happened, Chris would check to see if Buck’s heart was still beating. But he noticed, too, that JD was fast learning how to defend himself against Buck’s badgering.

After Buck and JD were gone, Ezra spoke up. "I ran into an old friend at an establishment across the street. If there’s nothing we can do at this time, I believe I shall procure a room then join him for some reminiscing. Provided we are staying here for the night." He arched an eyebrow questioningly.

Vin nodded. "Somethin’s goin’ on around here and I aim to find out what it is."

Ezra didn’t doubt the tracker. He had remarkable intuition. Besides, that gave Ezra time to discuss old times with Stewart Randolph, and enjoy a meal not cooked over an open fire.

"We’ll get rooms at the hotel," Chris said. "If anything comes up, we’ll find you."

"Or I shall find you," Ezra said with a twinkle in his pale eyes.

"Amen, brother," Josiah stated, his expression dark and unfathomable.

Ezra nodded to the three men, then left.

"Nathan’s in trouble, Chris," Josiah said with the certainty of God proclaiming Judgment Day.

Chris removed his hat and raked his fingers through his dark blond hair. "My gut tells me the same thing." He swore. "There’s got to be someone who knows something."  

"Where does that woman live – the one who Nathan helped deliver her baby?" Vin asked.

"I heard her husband give Nathan directions," Josiah volunteered. "It’s closer to Orville than Lancaster. It’ll take us about thirty miles west."

"If we haven’t learned anything by morning, we’ll head that way," Chris said.

"Maybe somebody should stay here in case Nathan comes back," Vin said.

"Ezra can since he seems to have stumbled upon an old friend," Josiah said.

Vin nodded. "I’ll stay with him."

Chris leaned back in his chair and planted his elbows on the chair arms, then steepled his fingers as he studied Vin. "All right. We’re going to be gone at least a couple days so it’s a good idea to leave two of you so you can watch each other’s backs."

He studied Vin, wondering if he should stay with him and send Ezra with Josiah, Buck, and JD. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Ezra – he’d come a long way since he’d ridden out on them in that Seminole village. It was just that he trusted himself more.

"Ezra’ll do fine," Vin said in a low voice, startling Chris.

Sometimes Vin’s intuition was damned eerie, but it was that perception that Chris admired most in his friend. And even though Chris often cursed Vin’s soft heart when it came to helping folks, he respected him for that compassion, too.

Chris nodded. "All right. If we ain’t back in three days, you and Ezra head out to Orville."

"You got it," Vin said.


JD entered the sheriff’s office ahead of Buck and nodded at the red-haired man sitting behind the desk. "Howdy," JD greeted.

The lawman set aside his pen, and sent him and Buck an answering, but wary nod. "Afternoon. New in town?"

"That’s right," JD said, feeling right at home in the office. He hooked his fingers around his gunbelt. "Me and my friends are lookin’ for someone."

The sheriff’s eyes narrowed. "To gun him down?"

JD blinked, thrown off-balance by the odd question. "’Course not. Fact is, I’m a sheriff, too. Well, I was until we left Four Corners."

"When did they start hirin’ boys to do a man’s job?"

Buck took a step forward, his hands clenched in fists, but JD grabbed his arm. "I’ll take care of this," he said in a low voice. Keeping a hold on his friend, JD gave the lawman a steady look. "When that boy proves he can do it."

For a long moment the sheriff eyed JD, his expression unrevealing of his thoughts. Finally, he pushed back his chair and stood, offering JD his hand. "The name’s Sheriff Dan O’Malley."

"JD Dunne," he introduced, shaking the man’s hand. "And this is Buck Wilmington."

Buck only glared at the sheriff.

"We’re trying to find a man," JD began.

"You bounty hunters?" the sheriff asked, narrowing his eyes.

JD shook his head. "We’re looking for a friend of ours. A black man by the name of Nathan Jackson. Would’ve passed through a few days ago."

"Don’t recall any Negroes in town lately. I’d remember if there had been."

JD’s hopes tumbled; he’d been so certain the sheriff would have seen him.

"Or maybe you conveniently forgot," Buck growled.

O’Malley’s hostile gaze settled on Buck. "You callin’ me a liar?" A thick Irish accent slipped into his speech.

Buck stepped up to the desk and flattened his palms on the surface, leaning toward O’Malley. "You tell me."

The tension grew thicker than sorghum, and JD wrapped his fingers around Buck’s arm. He could feel the taut muscles beneath his jacket sleeve. "C’mon, Buck. If Sheriff O’Malley said he didn’t see him, he didn’t."

The two men continued to parry looks like two tomcats getting ready to spit.

"C’mon, Buck," JD said more forcefully.

After a moment, Buck relinquished his gaze and pushed back, muttering an oath.

JD forced a smile. "Thanks for your help, Sheriff."

"You two stayin’ in town a while?" O’Malley asked.

"For the night."

"Be gone first thing in the morning. I wouldn’t want to have to lock up your friend."

Buck charged toward the lawman, and JD planted himself in front of him and grabbed his shoulders, barely restraining the larger man. He pulled him out of the office, then released him as they walked down the boardwalk.

"So how’d I do?" JD asked.

"Just fine, kid," Buck said with a wink and a grin. "Now he thinks you’re his buddy and I’m crazy."

JD adjusted his derby hat with a jaunty motion. Then he reminded himself of the reason for the charade. "You think Nathan’s still alive?"

For a moment, JD thought Buck was going treat him like a kid again and feed him some bullshit about not worrying, that Nathan could take care of himself.

"I don’t know, JD, and that’s the honest to God truth," Buck said somberly.

And JD almost wished Buck would have given him empty reassurances instead.

Part 2