The Trail to Tascosa

by The Traveling Dime Store Novelist

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.

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.

Story One

The Journey Begins

By The Traveling Dimestore Novelist

The sounds of fiddle music, people laughing and talking, combined with a rainbow array of brightly colored dresses and white boiled shirts to give Chris Larabee more than a hint of claustrophobia in the newly built schoolhouse. The town of Four Corners had come a long way in the six months since Chris and his six compatriots had arrived. No longer did trail-weary cowboys go on drunken shooting sprees, and those who preyed on the weaker had either been hunted themselves and brought to justice, or chased out of town.  

For the first time, the farmers had had a prosperous harvest, and to show their appreciation for the town’s betterment, a special celebration with a dance had been planned in the seven men’s honor. Chris would’ve preferred a simple handshake, but the townsfolk of Four Corners had been adamant. Besides, he would’ve never heard the end of it from Buck Wilmington if he had refused.  

He searched the swirling and milling crowd for Buck, and wasn’t surprised to find him dancing with a pretty redhead. The adoring way she gazed up at him made Chris wonder which line Buck had used this time – he seemed to have a bottomless cache of them. He continued to look around, and spotted Josiah Sanchez talking to Mrs. Potter from the general store, and Nathan Jackson was visiting with Mary Travis, the owner of the Clarion News, the town newspaper.  

Children’s laughter floated across the room, catching Chris’ attention. He wasn’t surprised to see Ezra Standish hadn’t been able to lay his cards aside even for one evening - he was surprised by the group of kids gathered around him as he performed parlor tricks with his calling card, the ace of spades. Maybe it shouldn’t have been so amazing, seeing as how Ezra had captivated the children in that Seminole village they’d defended from a crazed Confederate officer and his army in what seemed a lifetime ago. On the outskirts of the youngsters stood JD Dunne, the youngest member of the seven, following Ezra’s deft hand movements with nearly as much awe as the children. Chris drew the edge of his hand along his mouth to hide an amused smile – in some ways, JD was more like the children than a feared member of the group of men some folks had dubbed Larabee’s gang.

His humor faded as he surveyed the room for the seventh man, but Vin Tanner was nowhere to be found. 

Mary Travis approached him, and smiled warmly. "You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished here, Chris."  

"I didn’t do it alone," he said.

Her smile faltered and Chris admonished himself for being so curt. "I’m sorry, Mary. It’s just that maybe we’ve done too good of job."  

She tilted her head questioningly. "I don’t understand."

He shrugged. How did he explain the restlessness that had been growing in him the last couple of months? Even he couldn’t understand why he felt a need to get on his horse and ride as fast and as far as he could. All he knew was that his gut felt like a watchspring that had been wound too tightly, and was threatening to fly apart.  

"You got what you wanted, Mary," he continued. "Folks aren’t afraid to leave their homes after dark anymore. The first schoolteacher’s comin’ into town next week, and I even heard that a US marshal will be comin’ up here pretty soon."

"That’s only an unsubstantiated rumor," Mary said firmly. "Nobody is going to force you and your friends to seek other employment. This is your home now."

He looked past Mary, to a picture in his mind’s eye, the final image he held of Sarah and Adam waving good-bye. He forced himself back to the present, and met Mary’s blue-gray eyes. "I never planned on stayin’ and plantin’ roots here. There’s still too many unanswered questions."  

The strains of a waltz circled them.  

"Questions about your wife and son?" Mary asked quietly.

Chris balked, trying to decide how much he should tell her. He nodded. "Partly, but there’s other things inside of me, things that you wouldn’t recognize." He ran a restless hand through his reddish-blond hair. "Things I gotta get settled before I can ever think about a home again."  

He could tell she was upset, but he had no comforting words to give her. He admired and respected Mary, and liked her son Billy, and he knew she felt the same, maybe more, for him. But he had no right to make promises he didn’t know if he could ever keep.  

"If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go outside and get some air." He paused. "It’s getting a mite close around here."  

Mary’s disturbed expression told Chris she understood the layered meaning of his words. He plucked his black hat from a wood peg and left the crowded schoolhouse behind. Stopping on the steps outside, he breathed in the fresh evening air. A hint of autumn was already in the breeze, and Chris wondered if he could spend a whole winter cooped up in Four Corners without going crazy. He doubted it.

He dug a cheroot from his shirt pocket, placed it between his lips, then struck a lucifer. He cupped his hands around the flame and lit the thin cigar. Taking a long drag, he allowed his gaze to flicker across the quiet street. He spotted Vin down the block, a solitary figure standing by the livery corral. With long, easy strides, Chris walked down the street and joined the ex-buffalo hunter.  

Vin’s forearms rested on the top corral pole and one booted foot was braced against the lower. In his hands he loosely held his harmonica, but it didn’t appear he’d been trying to coax a tune out of it. His gaze remained on the black silhouettes of the mountain range, but Chris knew he had been aware of him the minute he’d stepped out of the schoolhouse.

"Not enough women to go around in there," Vin commented without looking at Chris.  

"Buck didn’t have any trouble findin’ one," Chris said.  

Vin turned to Chris and smiled crookedly. "Does he ever?"  

Chris didn’t answer, but looked up at the star-filled sky. He’d often stared up at the same sight as he lay in his bedroll in a place where his only neighbors were a coyote or two, and maybe an owl or rabbit. Although those had been lonely times, he hadn’t felt the restlessness that was ballooning inside of him now – an edgy, fidgety feeling, like waiting for the other boot to drop.  

"Tascosa," Vin said quietly.  

Chris brought his attention back to the soft-spoken man.  

"It’s time I got myself squared with the law," Vin went on.  

Chris could recall at least four times when they’d planned to go to Tascosa, but each time something had come up that required their ‘special skills’. Vin had felt loyal enough to the group that he’d sacrificed the obligation to himself and stayed with them. That loyalty was just one of the traits Chris admired in the confident, self-effacing man he’d come to rely on more heavily than the others. However, Chris understood Vin’s need to clear his name; hell, he’d feel the same way in Vin’s boots.  

Chris stared at the glowing red end of his cheroot. "When do you want to leave?"  

"The sooner the better," Vin replied without hesitation.  

Chris thought a moment. "The judge comes in on tomorrow’s stage. I want to set things right with him before heading out."  

Vin slanted him a glance, and his eyes twinkled below his slouch hat’s brim.  

Chris shrugged beneath his perceptive gaze. "This town’s getting too damn domesticated for me."  

"And by the sound of it, you been spendin’ too much time around Ezra and his four bit words," Vin said, his eyes creasing at the corners.  

A crooked grin tugged at his lips. "He does kinda grow on a person, doesn’t he?"  

Vin glanced back at the schoolhouse, a beacon of civilization in the wilderness, and his expression sobered.

Chris intuitively knew what he was thinking. "We’ll see’em again – kinda like a bad penny that keeps showing up."

"Seven bad pennies," Vin correctly wryly. He took a deep breath, then tucked his harmonica in his jacket pocket. "How about we leave day after tomorrow, early?"

Chris nodded. "That’ll give us a day to get our business taken care of before headin’ out for good."

"I’m gonna turn in," Vin said. "Morning’ll come mighty fast."

"I think I’ll do the same."

Together, Chris and Vin walked side by side in the night’s darkness toward the boardinghouse. The music from the schoolhouse danced through the trees and blended with the soft soughing of the wind. Rough laughter tumbled out of one of the saloons as they passed by, and a working girl’s giggle from an upstairs room drifted down to the two men.  

But it was the coyote’s mournful yipping for its mate that caught Chris and Vin’s attention, called to the part of each of them that civilization couldn’t touch. They paused a moment to listen to nature’s siren.

"What’ll you tell Mrs. Travis?" Vin asked in a low voice.

"The truth," Chris replied after a moment. "It’s all I got to give her."  

Vin nodded in understanding and the two men entered the whitewashed boardinghouse.

Four Corners’ main street was strangely quiet as Chris and Vin tied their bedrolls and saddlebags to their horses’ saddles. Vin finished the task and leaned against Sire’s side, studying the coral glow that set the mountain peaks afire. He didn’t know how many mornings of freedom he had left. If he couldn’t clear his name, the law would have to be upheld and he’d pay the consequences in spite of his innocence. A shiver shimmied down his spine as he thought about his own death. He’d faced it so often, the possibility of it shouldn’t have spooked him, but it did. He remembered how his ma had died, kicking and fighting all the way.  

Boy, you’re a Tanner. Don’t you ever forget that.  

His mother’s final words echoed in his mind as they often did when he was uncertain if he’d made a right decision or not.

"You ready?" Chris asked.

Vin banished the doubts from his mind. "Yep."  

The two men mounted their horses, and paused a moment to glance down the silent street where nothing moved except a few crows cleaning up some spilled corn. Suddenly, the black birds squawked and cawed, and hopped into the air to fly a short distance before settling again.

A single rider rounded the corner and his horse walked toward Chris and Vin. Josiah drew the animal to a halt beside the two men, and Vin noted his saddle was outfitted with traveling gear.

"What’re you doing, Josiah?" Vin asked, his brow puckered in question.

"The Lord’s work," he replied with a faint smile and low, rumbling voice.

"I doubt the Lord’s gonna be anywhere near where we’re goin’.

"There are lost souls everywhere, it’s just that some are more lost than others." He divided his gaze between the two men, and Vin couldn’t help wondering if Josiah meant him or Chris, or both.

Vin extended his hand to Josiah, who shook it firmly. Chris, on the other side of Vin, sent the ex-preacher a slight smile and nod.

He looked up to see Nathan riding toward them; he, too, had his saddle loaded with gear.

"Nice mornin’, isn’t it?" Nathan remarked as he neared.

Vin glanced at the awakening sky to hide the smile that tempted his lips. "Downright purty."

"You goin’ any place in particular?" Chris asked dryly.

Nathan shrugged. "I been savin’ for a shiny new medical kit. I hear Tascosa might have one."

Another rider approached, the horse galloping down main street. Ten feet away, JD reined in and the animal stopped on the proverbial dime. "Mind if I tag along?" He grinned, his smile reminiscent of the boy he’d been when he’d first arrived in Four Corners. "I can ride and I can shoot."

"And I hear you swim and fly purty good, too," Vin said, allowing his smile to grow.

"You heard right," JD replied, taking the long-standing joke in stride.

"What about your sheriff job?" Chris asked.

JD’s dark eyes sparkled. "I resigned last night. Judge Travis said a marshal would be arriving by the end of the week so I ain’t leavin’ the town in a bind." He glanced at Vin. "Besides, I figger my experience as a lawman’ll come in handy provin’ your innocence."  

Vin smiled in amusement at his boyish enthusiasm. "You got a point there, JD."

Chris shook his head, but he, too, had a hint of a smile on his face.

It didn’t surprise Vin to see another horseman headed their way.

"Good morning, gentlemen, and I do use the term loosely," Ezra greeted, his tone sardonic. Fastidiously, he flicked some imaginary dust from the sleeve of his green jacket. "Would you perchance be needing my assistance in your glorious quest to clear our companion’s fine name?"

JD frowned as if thinking hard to figure out what Ezra just said. Vin grasped the general meaning and extended his hand to the gambler and con man. "Welcome aboard, Ezra."  

Although Ezra appeared the dandy, his handshake was firm and his sea-green eyes steady. "My pleasure." He paused, then added in his indolent southern drawl, "Besides, I believe my reputation has precluded the further enhancement of my resources."

"Huh?" JD asked, his forehead creased in confusion.

"He can’t find any more suckers who’ll play poker with him," Vin translated.

Ezra feigned disappointment. "I should take offense at such denigration of my sterling character, but the actual veracity is that it’s time to facilitate my emigration to some other locale."

Vin studied Ezra a moment, noting the twinkle that appeared in his eyes, and he shook his head in mock resignation. "Hell, you might come in handy – you could always confuse’em into takin’ the wanted paper off me."

"It would be my pleasure, Mr. Tanner," Ezra replied with a grin wide enough that Vin could see his lucky gold tooth.

Vin glanced at Chris who had a forearm resting on his saddlehorn, and the former fast gun shrugged, but Vin could tell he was proud of their friends. When the seven diverse men had first hooked up, it didn’t seem like they had a snowball’s chance in hell of coming together as a team. But they had, and they’d become friends in the bargain.

Vin looked down the street, wondering if the seventh man would join them. He liked Buck, but never quite understood how he and Chris had become so close. The two individuals seemed as different as night and day – Chris the oppressive dark and Buck the blinding light.  

But, then, maybe that was reason enough.  

With an encompassing and grateful look at the men who would ride with him to help clear his name, Vin took a deep breath and nudged his horse’s flanks with his boot heels. Chris guided his horse up beside him with the others stringing into a line behind them.  

From her newspaper office, Mary Travis watched the six men ride in single file down the street toward her. Her stomach clenched with something akin to sorrow, and she rolled her fingers into fists. With trembling legs, she walked to the door and stepped outside onto the boardwalk to watch them pass.

Chris, being the natural leader, led them. She stared at his profile, silently willing him to look at her. When he was directly across from her position, he turned his head and their eyes met. She could see apology and regret, but she also saw determination and his damnable pride. Her heart twisted and she choked back a cry. He hadn’t given her the opportunity to fall in love with him, and for that she should have been grateful. But she cared for him and identified with his pain.

He touched the brim of his hat with two fingers and nodded, his face as inscrutable as ever. Then he turned his gaze to the road ahead.

Mary blinked back tears and met Vin Tanner’s respectful nod and slight smile. She smiled tremulously in return.

As each man passed, they touched their hats courteously and smiled their farewells. Mr. Standish, whom Mary had come to like despite his glibness and penchant for gambling; Mr. Sanchez who had rebuilt the church single-handedly, but refused to preach from its pulpit; Sheriff Dunne, the boy who’d grown into a man under Chris and the others’ tutelage; and finally Nathan, whom Mary had known the longest and held the most fondness for. He’d saved more than one person’s life in Four Corners and he’d be sorely missed, but she reluctantly understood his loyalty to the men who’d saved him from hanging.  

Her father-in-law, Judge Oren Travis, joined her and put an arm around her shoulders. Together, they watched the dust settle behind the men’s horses as they left the town behind. A single tear rolled down Mary’s cheek and she brushed it away impatiently.  

"We should be glad they stayed as long as they did," Judge Travis said quietly.  

Mary nodded. "I suppose, but I thought maybe. . . ."  

"Chris Larabee is a man with more than his share of ghosts chasing him, and he won’t be able to settle down until he’s laid them to rest." The judge paused. "But he’s a damned good man and the others aren’t going to abandon him. Fact is, they’ve already ridden through hell for each other, and probably will again in the days ahead."  

Startled, Mary turned to look at him. "What do you mean?"  

"Men like them draw trouble like honey draws a bear, and I have a feeling the trail to Tascosa is going to be longer than any of them imagined."  

The sound of rapid hoofbeats on the hard earth caused them to look back and see Buck Wilmington riding hard down main street. He slowed to a trot as he passed them and managed a tip of his hat and a rakish smile, then he, too, was gone like the morning mist.  

Mary took a deep breath and drew away from her father-in-law. It was time to get back to work – they still had a long way to go before Four Corners was completely civilized. Straightening her spine, she walked back into her office and began to set type for the Clarion News’ front page story – a tale of seven heroes who tamed a town and left a legacy of peace when they rode away.

"Rider coming fast," JD called out from the rear of the group.  

The rest of the men stopped and turned in their saddles to see who was approaching. Chris didn’t bother to look – he knew who it would be, and a sense of satisfaction rose in him. Buck nodded to the men as he rode up beside them. He reined his big gray in beside Chris and Vin.  

"Buck," Chris said simply.  

Buck drew his lips together and narrowed his eyes, then asked, "How’re the women in Tascosa?"  

Chris glanced at Vin who smiled conspiratorially, and they both turned to Buck and spoke as one, "Don’t come much livelier."  

Nathan chuckled first, then JD joined in and Josiah smiled broadly. Ezra shook his head as if asking himself what he’d gotten himself into, but his eyes were filled with mirth.

"Sounds like a right fine place," Buck drawled. "Mind if I tag along?"

"Wouldn’t be the same without you," Vin said, a lazy grin spreading across his face.  

Chris merely gazed at Buck silently, and when Buck’s eyes settled on him, they remained there long enough to communicate a friendship that seemed to persevere in spite of Chris’ attempt to sabotage it. And, in that moment, Chris realized he was glad Buck hadn’t given up on him. Maybe someday Chris would be able to look at his oldest friend and not see all he’d lost, but the one thing he’d been able to hold on to.

He met Vin’s glance as Vin looked at each of the six men gathered around him, giving them one last chance to go back to Four Corners, but nobody took him up on the unspoken offer. Chris sent Vin a nod, then took a deep breath and without another word, began the journey to Tascosa.

Go to part 2