Two Fish Run Into a Wall
“There they go,” JD said, watching as two wagons slipped away into the darkness of early morning, along with a handful of horses. The nuns had trickled out to the rendezvous point north of the hills and the town over the course of the night, far away from prying eyes.
Sister Ethel, when she arrived, was the only one of them to speak to the men there, and only in order to explain that two nuns, Sister Antonia and Sister Frances, were staying behind because Hannah wouldn’t leave. Josiah’s sister had started screaming the moment she got her near the door, and nothing short of knocking the woman out would have quieted her. So, she stayed, and Antonia and Frances stayed with her.
Thus, only eighteen nuns rode away in the darkness, planning on turning west as soon as they found a level plain to follow in that direction. Miguel’s sister led them, knowing the area best, though she’d been a reluctant guide.
“I wish we could send someone with them,” Buck muttered, not liking the idea of what might happen were they to run into trouble. “Donata is not going to be much of a match with that old carbine I lent her.”
“True, but that was better than letting her come with us, once she learnt those bastards had her brother,” Chris muttered. “I guarantee, as soon as she sees the sisters safe at that ranch, she’ll be riding back here.”
Buck smiled, “Gotta admire a spirit like that.”
JD rolled his eyes, “don’t think its just her spirit you admire, Buck,” he mumbled.
“True, true,” the ladies’ man grinned.
“Besides,” JD gripping in his hands on the lapels of Ezra’s purple jacket, “t’weren’t you she was looking at.” She’d admired the jacket once he had it on, using the soft fabric as an excuse to touch his arm. JD arched a knowing eyebrow at his best friend.
Buck’s grin faltered, and he sighed. “Well, I admit, some girls do start off preferring the frosting to the cake, but they soon grow out of that.”
“Frosting?” JD punched Buck in the arm. “I’ll show you who’s frosting!” Buck chuckled, grabbing the arm and jogging away a couple of steps.
“Boys,” Chris’s commanding voice floated over to them, “we’ve work to do.”
“Sure, sure,” Buck said, waving a hand dismissively at the gunslinger. “I was just thinking how much Ezra’s jacket suits JD. Looks like he’s dressing up for his first dance! He looks so cute!”
“Ach!” JD charged at the older man, who sidestepped at the last moment and tripped the kid. JD rolled head over heels in the dirt, and ended up sitting on his rear, shaking dust from his hair.
“Oh…JD…,” Vin clucked his tongue. JD squinted up at him from a dust covered face. The tracker patted his right arm. The kid blinked, and looked down at his own right arm.
The elbow had split, so that an ugly hole showed the dirty shirt JD wore underneath.
Buck started guffawing as JD desperately tried to force the torn sleeve back together with his fingers, as if it would magically sew itself.
“Yup,” Vin said, “I think its safe to say, if we survive this…you’re a dead man, kid.”
Chris shook his head, walked over to the kid and offered him a hand up. Once JD was back on his feet, Chris patted off some of the dirt, then smiled.
“As I said, we’ve got work to do.” He started walking back to Solon without looking back.
JD cuffed Buck upside the head where the ladies’ man was still bent over with laughter and followed Chris back to the horses.
BA looked back as he heard the others sneaking up the hillock over the camp to crouch next to him. He met Chris’s eyes.
“There’s twenty-seven now, I think. Just hired three more this morning,” the sergeant whispered.
“Twenty-seven,” Vin nodded, “Interesting. Guess that evens the odds for them a little,” he smiled wickedly.
Chris leaned forward to peer through the brush to the camp below, “How many down there?”
“Twenty-one, including the two brothers,” BA answered.
“And the others?”
“There’s three down at the dam. Watching the plain and the hills. Didn’t see you obviously.”
Chris smiled, as if to say, ‘naturally.’
“So, that puts five hovering around the convent,” Vin said. “We should take them out first. And someone needs to go make sure the sheriff stays out of the way when this comes down.”
Chris nodded. Twisting, he looked at Buck and JD who were crouching further down the hillock, waiting.
“The ones at the convent and the sheriff are yours,” he said. “You know what to do. And keep it quiet. If a shot goes off down there, they will hear the echo up hear, so no guns. Meet back here soon as you’re done.”
“Right ho,” Buck saluted quickly, grabbed JD by the sleeve and the two disappeared into the brush.
Chris tapped BA on the shoulder, “You and Vin take the ones at the dam. Rule about guns still applies. I’ll keep watch here.”
The sergeant nodded, saluting just as Buck did. He paused a second and blinked, realizing what he had just done and frowned slightly. Then, shaking himself out of it, followed Vin who was already creeping away into the shadows.
A tiny smile creased Chris’s face at the sergeant’s mistake. Pulling out his peacemaker, he settled in to make sure no one at the camp went anywhere for a while.
Ezra was watching out of a window on the second floor of the convent, up where they’d moved both Face and Hannah. The two long rectangular rooms they’d taken over -- one for the lieutenant and one for Josiah’s sister – were dorm rooms with cots lining the sides. They both ran the full length of the building, split in half by the single hallway down the middle. Windows lined the walls at regular intervals in the back and along the sides, and the one Ezra was using gave an unobstructed view of the plain all the way to the dam in the distance. No windows looked over the front of the convent, which was a bit of a problem. You could only watch the front from the belfry tower above the small chapel or from the front door.
Bright morning sunshine streamed into the room through the unshuttered windows, bringing in the heady smell of wet dirt where, until recently, the river had tried to reform itself. He frowned as he realized that, if you were looking for them, it was pretty easy to see the darting tracks of the nuns as they had snuck out of the convent through the back last night. The mud was thick and held the two inch deep impressions of footprints easily.
Looking up, his eyes tracked what he thought was movement along the edge of what he’d come to think of as “the marsh” – the area where the river had soaked the former crop ground into a swampy mess. Trees and junipers crowded along the edges. It was pretty easy to hide in them.
He was pretty sure there were at least four, maybe five, bodies out there, watching the convent. He squinted, looking for the hint that Chris and Hannibal’s plan was in motion out there.
A flash of movement caught his eye, and he straightened.
But, as quickly as it had come, it was gone again. Whatever had been moving was gone from sight, if it had ever been there. He frowned.
A glint of glass flashed up near the dam, drawing his eyes up. Someone was watching the convent through a spyglass now that the sun had come up.
For a moment, he thought it might be Vin. The tracker was supposed to signal them by flashing his spyglass when he secured the dam area. Ezra was tempted to wave, and his lips curled into a goofy smile at the absurd thought. Easy way to get shot. That spyglass was stationary up there. They were still being watched.
Vin and BA hid behind some trees, watching the dam from behind. The three men on watch were actually looking a bit too much on the ball. The sergeant looked over at the tracker, agreeing with the dark expression on the younger man’s face. There was no way they could sneak up on any of the three without the other two seeing. And no way to take down all three without their guns.
And they couldn’t use their guns.
“We need a distraction,” Vin muttered softly.
“Right,” BA nodded.
He still looked at Vin, his eyes quite clearly stating that he was not
going to help in this regard. BA didn’t
come up with the plans -- that was
Vin sighed, and shrugged. “I’ve no idea. I don’t usually come up with distractions,” the tracker admitted. “Well…except for this one time with this guy Wickes, but it was Ezra who actually pulled it off….”
“Ezra’s not here,” BA stated matter-of-factly.
Vin looked at the sergeant, a slightly annoyed look on his face. BA shrugged. Stating the obvious was what BA did. The tracker sighed, and looked back at the three men on guard.
BA looked down, then perked up, “Well…if he was here…what would you have him do to distract them?”
Vin pursed his lips. “Something fun,” he muttered, smiling slightly.
“Anything happening?” a voice asked softly from the cot on the second floor of the convent. Ezra turned, and smiled to see Face blinking owlishly over at him.
“You’re awake?” the gambler smiled.
“Really? Good, I’d hate to think I was dreaming this,” a wry smile touched his dry lips, and he raised a hand to wave at the windows. “Anything happening?” he repeated.
“Not yet,” Ezra answered.
“Where…” Face’s voice trailed off.
Face gave a weak smile, “Oh…if they have combustibles…he’ll find them….”
“Combustibles,” Ezra grinned. “Nice word.”
Face’s smile grew, then he coughed. Leaning his rifle against the wall, Ezra jogged over to the dresser to get the pitcher and cup. He poured the clear water into the cup and knelt down to hand it to the lieutenant.
Face, lying on his side, took it with his free hand and took a gingerly sip. He closed his eyes again, then seemed to force them open in order to look more clearly at Ezra.
“Where…are the others?”
“Josiah’s with his sister in the room next to this one, and Sister Antonia is there as well. Sister Frances is downstairs, watching the front of the convent from the door, though, barring the townsfolk coming back, your colonel doesn’t think that we have anything to fear from that direction for a while. Something about cowards always using the back door?” he paused, and Face chuckled.
“Oh, well, the rest of the brood are out and about in the hills. They’re taking care of things.”
Face nodded, “Watch out for Murdock and BA…together…they can…get a bit…loud….” And his head drooped.
Ezra rested a hand on the man’s head, checking for a temperature, then stood up. Face didn’t seem to know or remember that Murdock was being held hostage, which was probably a good thing. With a sigh, he returned to his post. Green eyes scanned the landscape. Nothing appeared to have changed….
“Three down!” JD said gleefully, standing up a wiping the dirt from his hands. He moved forward to check out the convent through the trees, and saw a part of Ezra’s white sleeve as the gambler returned to his post at the window, knowing that the gambler probably couldn’t see them. Turning, he grinned down at the third bruiser as Buck hogtied the unconscious man and stuffed a rag in his mouth.
“Don’t get cocky on me yet, kid,” Buck responded, tying the last knot and tossing the bruiser to the side. “We still got two more, not to mention that, if we’ve miscounted….”
“You worry too much,” JD smiled. “This is like taking candy….”
“Hey! Who the heck are you…?” The strange voice trailed off, clearly having figured it out. Mr. Duval had come out here with food for the men watching the convent, and was now regretting that favor.
Both Buck and JD looked to their right, where a short, balding man stared at them with wide eyes. He didn’t look like a gunslinger. He looked more like a shopkeeper, especially considering the brown bag of food in his arms. The man backed up, nearly tripping over his own feet, before tossing the bag at them, turning around and running like hell.
“Damn it!” Buck was after him, scrambling over some fallen branches, including the one they’d used to clobber the bad guy on the ground. JD bit his lip, waiting a moment, before turning to his right and running up the hillside between the trees and into the open.
Ezra straightened, seeing a familiar looking jacket appear as someone who looked an awful lot like JD scrambled up the hill to the left, before the figure disappeared back into the trees.
“JD you idiot!” he hissed. He saw the spyglass on the hill flash. Whoever was watching had seen the kid. Damn it!
He turned and ran out the door. Josiah popped his head out of the door of the other room at the same time, having seen the same thing. Ezra held up a staying hand as he ran past, headed for the stairs. The preacher frowned, but stayed where he was.
“There’s movement on the hill!” One of the hired gunslingers up on the dam stood up from where he had been watching the convent and plain spread out below, his spyglass trained on the hillside. The two others were pacing up and down the water’s edge, their eyes on the woods in case anyone tried to come up from behind, but they both stopped at the news. The one at the edge turned his spyglass again, “And…someone’s just come out the back of the convent!”
The other two jogged over to the edge to join him, and looked down, trying to see what the first man saw.
Sure enough, a white shirted man was standing just outside the rear gate of the convent, looking as if he were jumping up and down.
“The one at the convent…he’s…” the first man paused, his spyglass trained on Ezra. “I think…he’s dancing an Irish jig.”
“Gimme that!” one of the others snarled, snatching the spyglass away. He stared down at the white shirted man, his frown growing.
“Well?” the third man asked.
“He is dancing. How weird. Though, gotta say it looks more like Morris dancing than Irish,” The second man’s bemused tone made the first one smile smugly.
“Told ya, “ said the first man. “Though, I’m pretty sure it’s Irish, not Scottish. Morris dancing is more up and down.”
“Yeah, maybe, but he could also just be tap dancing, see the way he’s got one arm over his head, kinda like a…?”
“Are you two nuts!” the third suddenly yelled, “don’t you get it? He’s distracting us from whatever is happening on the hill!” He grabbed the spyglass and turned it to the hillside.
“That’s not the only thing he’s distracting you from, boys!” Vin called from behind them. The sound of two rifle hammers being pulled back echoed across the water. “Now, I’d put my hands up and turn around if I were you!”
The three men froze and looked at each other sideways, considering their options. The first man’s hands twitched, his fingers drifting closer to the gun at his waist.
“Man said hands up! Now turn around!” a different, much darker voice growled.
That voice did it. The one with the spyglass dropped it, and all three frowned, raising their hands as ordered. Turning, they were suddenly glad that they hadn’t chosen to fight when they saw the two men facing them.
BA’s lips curled upwards for a brief moment, then fell into their customary snarl. His muscles rippled in the sunlight.
“Hands on your head,” Vin ordered. “And you make one sound…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to make the sergeant here mad…would you?”
JD half ran, half scrambled, vaguely following a thin goat track cut against the hillside, watching as two men appeared out of nowhere and started running for Buck’s position somewhere below. The shopkeeper was yelling loudly for help, and while the shouts wouldn’t reach much past the immediate area, it was more than enough to get the last two hired guns responding. They had bolted out of their hiding places like crocodiles leaping from the water to snatch at their prey.
Buck finally caught up with the shopkeeper, tackling him to the ground.
Seeing the ladies’ man finally come to a stop, JD jumped off his little track and started running down the hill above Buck’s position, barely keeping upright as his feet constantly tried to slip out from beneath him on the dead leaves and loose dirt.
The ladies’ man barely avoided a kick to the jaw and got in a solid uppercut to the shopkeeper’s chin, knocking the stranger flat. Staggering back to his feet, his breathing ragged from the run, Buck turned around to look for the gunslingers he knew were bearing down on him…plus, he had no idea where JD had gone. He was about to yell the kid’s name when a gunman crashed through the brush to his left, gun raised and about to fire. Buck twisted and fell back on his rear with a surprised cry, not ready yet. Where had he come from?
And like a bolt of lightening, 180 pounds of JD Dunne appeared out of nowhere, diving into the man from somewhere above both their heads. The kid cannoned into the gunman, sending them both flying and crashing further down the hillside, disappearing once more into the underbrush.
Buck whooshed, shaking his head at the narrow escape. Man he loved that kid! He got back to his feet and began to chuckle….
….at least until he turned to find another gunman staring at him from the other side of the unconscious shopkeeper. Like the first, this one had his gun raised, but there was nothing “last minute” about this one’s movements. It was if he’d been standing there for hours, just waiting for Buck to show up and be a convenient target. An evil smile played on the gunman’s lips as the suddenly sober Buck scrambled for his own weapon, both men knowing full well the ladies’ man would be too slow.
It was a shock to the over-confident gunman, then, to feel the sharp sting of a knife embed itself in his back.
His mouth formed a small “o” and Buck, who couldn’t see why the gunman’s expression had gone from smug to surprise, arched a curious eyebrow.
Then the gunman’s eyes rolled upwards, the only sound a peep from his throat as he fell helplessly into a heap at the hapless Buck’s feet.
The ladies’ man was staring at the body in a sort of disbelieving stupor as Nathan jogged out of nowhere. Buck looked up.
“Nathan? But, how….?”
“Ezra sent me,” the healer said, as if he’d just been out for a stroll. “Thought maybe you might need some help.” Nathan grinned impishly. Buck blinked, then started to grin.
“Help?” JD asked, stumbling up out of the brush from where he’d knocked out his man. “Pshaw! We didn’t need any help!” he grinned, reaching up to pull some muck and dead leaves from his hair and walking over to Buck. “As I said, like taking candy….”
“From a freight train,” Buck finished. JD laughed.
Nathan looked up from where he had been removing his knife, and couldn’t resist a whistle as he looked at the state of Ezra’s jacket on the kid. The left sleeve was torn from cuff to elbow, the hole in the right sleeve was twice the size it was before, and muck, caked-on dirt and wet dead leaves stuck to the rest of it. It was barely recognizable. The healer put a hand to his mouth.
“Damn, JD, you got a death wish?”
JD’s smile faltered, and he looked down at himself.
“Oh…,” the kid said. When he looked up, he was biting his lip, “Think he’ll notice?”
Vin tied up the third man, then stood up and smiled at the sergeant.
“That’s Ezra, isn’t it,” BA asked, looking down the hill to the convent, seeing the odd jumping up and down of the white shirted man.
Vin grinned, and whistled for Peso. The horse appeared from out the woods, and Vin pulled his spyglass from the saddle. “Yup.” He waved the spyglass as he spoke. Ezra stopped and waved back.
BA shook his head. “He’s surprisingly prescient.”
“You should hear him sing,” Vin grinned.
Ezra walked back into the convent, happy to have seen a
spyglass waving at him from the dam. He
couldn’t resist the urge to grin, even when he saw
“Tap dancing?” the colonel asked, “Morris dancing?”
“Irish jig,” Ezra replied, blushing massively and ducking
past him to hide in the dark interior.
Nathan walked back into the convent, entering through the back door this time instead of through the window he’d slipped out of, no longer needing to hide his approach. Like Ezra, he’d seen Vin’s signal from the dam.
He nodded to
Climbing up the stairs, Nathan peeked into Josiah’s room, where the preacher was watching out the windows while Antonia tried to stop Hannah from breaking down again. Josiah’s sister was quietly whimpering, still not having gotten over the scare of nearly being forced to leave, or being in this strange room or all the excitement. Josiah, hearing Nathan’s footfall, turned and caught his eye, nodding a curt hello. The preacher’s expression was taut, and the healer lowered his eyes, hating seeing such tension in the usually easy-going older man.
Backing out of the stressful room, Nathan crossed the hall and walked into the room with Ezra and Face.
As expected, Face was sleeping, lying on his uninjured side, peaceful as can be, while Ezra paced up and down past the windows like a caged tiger. The gambler turned to look at him as he entered, eyes bright with the anticipation of the forthcoming fight.
“Are they all right?” he asked, looking at the healer. Nathan smiled and nodded, knowing the gambler meant JD and Buck.
“Both fine. There are presently five gunman and a shopkeeper securely tied up on the hill, not going anywhere. Now they’ve gone to make a visit to the local sheriff.”
Ezra smiled wickedly, “Wish I could be there. Always fun to see Buck in action.”
Nathan gave an agreeing nod, “And I assume you also saw Vin’s signal?”
Ezra smiled, nodding. “Looks like my little distraction for JD had an extra bonus.”
“Yeah,” Nathan tilted his head, “out of curiosity, what exactly did you do? I missed it.”
Ezra blushed mightily, and was saved from answering by
Gently, he rolled Face onto his back and lifted the dressing
from the wound. A smile graced his kind
features, and he turned to look at
“Swelling has gone down, and there’s still no real sign of infection.” Nathan assured him. “His body is healing well – I think he’s going to be all right.”
When he looked at Ezra and Nathan again, his eyes glittered, his lips creased into a knowing grin, and he reached into his breast pocket for a cigar.
The grin faded slightly as he found there wasn’t a cigar in his pocket.
“Here,” Ezra said, holding out a cigar to the colonel, “I found this one among Face’s things.”
The colonel took the cigar with a grin, bit off the end, and stuck it in his mouth. He wasn’t going to ask how Ezra knew what he was looking for, some things are just better left to the dime novels.