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 Vins 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.
"Chains of the Past"
by The Traveling Dime Store Novelist
"I dont 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 mens 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 wouldve sent us a message," Josiah Sanchez added. The former preacher toyed with his empty whiskey glass. "Ill ride back to Lancaster and find out whats goin on."
Chris Larabee, the unspoken leader of the seven men, glanced at Vin whose grim expression told him he wasnt about to continue to Tascosa without Nathan. Chris shook his head. "We all go."
Although it meant a two day ride back the way theyd come, his companions approval didnt surprise Chris. Nathan Jackson was the healer of the group, although it wasnt only physical wounds he treated. His thoughtful insights had often stopped the others from jumping into a fray, and hed 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 wasnt 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 hed gone to have a drink to celebrate the birth of a healthy baby boy. Hed 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, hed seen more death than hed 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?"
"Its just Nathan now."
He frowned. "What do you mean?"
"You know where youre 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 aint surprised." She sighed. "You aint a free man no more, Nathan."
Confusion sliced through the eddies of pain in Nathans head. "Whatre you talkin about?"
Before she could speak, a heavyset white man barreled in, wearing clothes in considerably better shape than Corrines. "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 aint in any shape to go out into the field."
"Hes alive and thats all that counts." The man stabbed a thumb over his shoulder, toward the door. "Cmon 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 aint your nigger and last I heard, no man owned another."
The stranger threw back his head and barked a harsh laugh. "You aint a man, youre the boss property. And if you dont do what youre supposed to, hell get rid of you like he would a tool that aint no good anymore."
Was his head wound making him imagine this craziness? Nathan blinked, but the brutish man didnt 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 hed 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 Nathans back seemed to tighten with his gut muscles.
Where the hell was he?
By the time the sun set, Nathans 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 dont know."
"You dont 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?"
"Pas dead. Ma works at the big house, so I dont see her much."
Nathans heart twisted for the boys 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 wouldnt listen. They whipped Pa bad, but he wouldnt give up." His huge dark eyes filled with sorrow. "Not til they shot him in the back when he was tryin to escape."
Despite Nathans own pain, he put an arm around the boys 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. "Whats your name?"
"You got a last name?"
"Lawrence." He stared at Nathan a moment. "Nobodys asked me that in a long time."
"You remember it good, Tommy, cause one of these days were gonna leave this place and youll need it," Nathan said softly.
Tommys eyes brightened for the first time since Nathan had met him. "Lets go get some supper."
"Where do we do that?"
"Cmon, Ill 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 Lancasters six saloons.
"Well split up so we can cover more ground," Chris stated, loosely wrapping his big blacks 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 wouldnt 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.
"Were looking for someone," Chris began.
"You and everybody else," the fat man said in a bored voice.
"Hes a friend of ours," Vin added.
"A black man, a little taller than me. Wouldve been through here four, five days ago," Chris said.
"Nope, aint seen him," the bartender stated, then turned away.
With the speed of a striking rattler, Vin grabbed the mans arm and jerked him against the bar. He kept his tone low and deadly. "Iffen you know something about him, youd best tell us. You see, Nathan is a good friend of ours and we wouldnt take kindly to anyone withholdin information about him."
The barkeeps pig-like eyes bulged and he shook his head. "Look, I aint 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 Id known you were so good at playin mean, Id let you do it more often."
Vin shook his head somberly. "I wasnt playin. My gut tells me he knows more than hes sayin."
"Think he knows where Nathan is?"
Vin frowned. "I dont know, but theres 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. "Thats how I feel right now."
From beneath his wide brim, Chris surveyed the main street. "Lets 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 youre looking for?"
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?"
"Mustve 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.
"Im 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 aint nobody seen him."
The mans eyes held sympathy. "Im 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 theyd gone, a woman came through the curtain behind the counter, her expression a mixture of fear and anger. "We cant let this go on, Asa."
Asa Hamilton, the stores 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 theres nothing we can do to stop him."
"But all those people " His wife crossed her arms. "Its just not right."
"I know," Asa replied in a frustrated tone that said theyd had the same argument numerous times before. "I dont like people like their friend being used either, but if we go against him, it wouldnt 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. Theres nothing holding us here."
"Were making a good living here."
"Only because people like that nice man Nathan and all the others are being treated like animals."
"It isnt 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, Ill 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, Ezras 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 mothers 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. "Youre a long ways from home, Mister "
"Ezra Standish at your service, maam." 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 youre a traveling man."
"Thats correct, Miss -- " he waited for her to reciprocate.
"Lottie Robertson," she replied. "And this is my place."
Ezras brow shot up. He didnt often run into a female saloon owner. "My compliments, my dear Miss Robertson."
"Actually, its Misses, although Im a widow. But please call me Lottie. All my friends do," she said without the coquetry of inexperienced youth.
"Itd be my pleasure, Lottie."
She put her hand through the crook of his arm. "Come on, Ill 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 ones 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 couldve 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. "Whos 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, Maudes little boy." He stood and grabbed Ezras hand, shaking it vigorously.
"Not so little anymore, sir," Ezra said respectfully.
Randolphs 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 didnt blame the man for his bitterness. Hed been a successful plantation owner until the war, then Sherman had blazed a fiery trail through the south, destroying everything in his way, including Randolphs mansion.
"I didnt know youd 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 dont you come back here for dinner? I know for a fact Lottie has the finest French cook this side of the Mississippi."
"Yes, please, Id love to hear your stories also," Lottie interjected.
"It would be my pleasure," Ezra said. "Now, if youll 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 hed been so surprised to see Randolph there, he hadnt asked about Nathan. Frowning to himself, Ezra doubted if Nathan wouldve gone into such an establishment. He preferred less ostentation. But if he had a chance, hed ask Lottie and Stewart if theyd 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 doesnt 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.
"Its 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 Bucks outburst. "Me and Vin didnt." He didnt have to explain why.
"Ill go," JD volunteered.
"Ill back ya up," Buck said.
Although the boy had come a long ways since hed joined the group, Chris felt better with Buck accompanying him. And he didnt 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 JDs relationship had changed some. It seemed to Chris that Buck treated him more like an equal rather than a kid. That didnt mean he had stopped teasing the boy; hell, if that happened, Chris would check to see if Bucks heart was still beating. But he noticed, too, that JD was fast learning how to defend himself against Bucks badgering.
After Buck and JD were gone, Ezra spoke up. "I ran into an old friend at an establishment across the street. If theres 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. "Somethins goin on around here and I aim to find out what it is."
Ezra didnt 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.
"Well get rooms at the hotel," Chris said. "If anything comes up, well 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.
"Nathans 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. "Theres 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. "Its closer to Orville than Lancaster. Itll take us about thirty miles west."
"If we havent learned anything by morning, well 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. "Ill 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. Were going to be gone at least a couple days so its a good idea to leave two of you so you can watch each others backs."
He studied Vin, wondering if he should stay with him and send Ezra with Josiah, Buck, and JD. It wasnt that he didnt trust Ezra hed come a long way since hed ridden out on them in that Seminole village. It was just that he trusted himself more.
"Ezrall do fine," Vin said in a low voice, startling Chris.
Sometimes Vins intuition was damned eerie, but it was that perception that Chris admired most in his friend. And even though Chris often cursed Vins soft heart when it came to helping folks, he respected him for that compassion, too.
Chris nodded. "All right. If we aint back in three days, you and Ezra head out to Orville."
"You got it," Vin said.
JD entered the sheriffs 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?"
"Thats 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 sheriffs eyes narrowed. "To gun him down?"
JD blinked, thrown off-balance by the odd question. "Course not. Fact is, Im a sheriff, too. Well, I was until we left Four Corners."
"When did they start hirin boys to do a mans job?"
Buck took a step forward, his hands clenched in fists, but JD grabbed his arm. "Ill 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 names Sheriff Dan OMalley."
"JD Dunne," he introduced, shaking the mans hand. "And this is Buck Wilmington."
Buck only glared at the sheriff.
"Were trying to find a man," JD began.
"You bounty hunters?" the sheriff asked, narrowing his eyes.
JD shook his head. "Were looking for a friend of ours. A black man by the name of Nathan Jackson. Wouldve passed through a few days ago."
"Dont recall any Negroes in town lately. Id remember if there had been."
JDs hopes tumbled; hed been so certain the sheriff would have seen him.
"Or maybe you conveniently forgot," Buck growled.
OMalleys 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 OMalley. "You tell me."
The tension grew thicker than sorghum, and JD wrapped his fingers around Bucks arm. He could feel the taut muscles beneath his jacket sleeve. "Cmon, Buck. If Sheriff OMalley said he didnt see him, he didnt."
The two men continued to parry looks like two tomcats getting ready to spit.
"Cmon, 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?" OMalley asked.
"For the night."
"Be gone first thing in the morning. I wouldnt 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 howd I do?" JD asked.
"Just fine, kid," Buck said with a wink and a grin. "Now he thinks youre his buddy and Im crazy."
JD adjusted his derby hat with a jaunty motion. Then he reminded himself of the reason for the charade. "You think Nathans 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 dont know, JD, and thats the honest to God truth," Buck said somberly.
And JD almost wished Buck would have given him empty reassurances instead.