Ezra P. Standish spread the cards on
the green baize of the table - a full house.
Buck threw his cards on the table in
disgust, noting with frustration the growing smile of satisfaction on
the gambler's face. Ezra was decidedly smug these days. Ever since he
had managed to scrape together enough funds to buy back the Standish
Tavern - and schemed, plotted and finally finagled his mother into parting
with the place by some so-far-undisclosed act of blackmail - he was
indeed a very happy man.
Not only that, but he had just this
week replaced all of the gaming tables in the establishment with good-quality
new ones, shipped from an exclusive manufacturer back east. He had gone
seriously into debt to do it, but the results were worth it - the Tavern
had immediately begun to attract more discerning customers, the riff-raff
trudging across the street to Four Corner's other saloon where the whisky
was no more than rot-gut, the beer weak and lukewarm, and the food definitely
questionable when it came to quality.
He sighed happily.
Josiah shook his head in defeat and
threw his abysmal hand face downward on the rich green of the baize.
He should have known better than to bluff with only a pair of eights
to his name, and he took a sip of his whiskey to try and deaden the
"If you so much as let one drop
of alcohol fall on my new tables, Mr Sanchez, you will be payin' for
its re-coverin' from that meagre pittance you call an income."
Josiah cocked an eyebrow at the gambler.
"Why don't you just deal, Ez, before
I forget that I'm supposed to be a man of God an' do some furniture
rearrangin' of my own
Standish smirked. With a dimpled smile
beginning to spread across his lean face he gathered together the cards
and began to shuffle, the cards whispering and rippling in practised
fingers. Green eyes twinkled with delight as he started to deal.
Yessiree, Josiah thought grimly,
Ezra looks just like the cat that ate the cream
but Ezra had a talent for pissin' off a man.
The three peacekeepers were just sorting
their cards when a commotion began outside. Voices were raised in consternation,
then yells of fear rang out as there was a loud CRASH as something
substantial collapsed. The whole building shuddered.
Three guns were out of their holsters
before the cards hit the table. Buck, Ezra and Josiah were on their
feet and on the point of heading out of the batwing doors, convinced
there was some sort of riot erupting on the main street of fair Four
Corners. But before they could move a human body pelted through the
doors into the saloon, a body with arms waving in panic and a face blanched
white with terror.
The unidentified body just kept going,
exiting through the door behind the bar while the rest of the better-quality
drunks, barflies and ne'er-do-wells that inhabited the Standish Tavern
gaped as a mountain burst in through the batwing doors.
It was a slow-moving mountain, to be
sure, a bull-shaped mountain with approximately half of Yosemite's corral
fence draped tastefully around its neck. Roland had come looking for
his Adored One. The scent had been elusive but dogged bovine that he
was, he had tracked Buck better than a blue-tick hound on the trail
of a grizzly.
Roland was having trouble pushing his
way through the doorway with his necklace of fence, but he heaved his
huge bulk forwards and dragged the wood through anyway, taking most
of the doors and a goodly portion of the supporting timbers with him.
Once through, he stood in the doorway,
head swinging from side to side as he searched for the scent of Wilmington,
Holder of the String, Person Whom He Adored. Ah-hah!!! There
he was! The small eyes blinked with delight and he stepped majestically
into the room, scattering drunks before him like rats leaving a sinking
He sauntered slowly across the room,
hump and corral fence swaying elegantly with every step, crushing tables
and chairs without a thought. They were reduced to match-sticks, nothing
but splinters and tangled green baize, as Roland sedately meandered
towards a Buck Wilmington standing frozen like a mesmerised rabbit.
Buck gripped his gun held in nerveless
fingers, the sheer enormity of the disaster unfolding in front of him
reducing him to a reasonable imitation of a floundering catfish as his
mouth opened and shut wordlessly.
Josiah had to admire Buck's steadfastness
in the face of this calamity. The preacher watched, fascinated, as Roland
halted beside Buck and that long, prehensile tongue crept out once more
and licked Wilmington's unresisting face, leaving a trail of goo and
frothy saliva bubbles on the dark moustache. Then, with a heaving sigh
of pleasure, Roland folded his legs and lay down in a groaning heap
on the saloon floor, crushing bits of fence and the last of Ezra's much-prized
gaming tables beneath his enormous bulk. Tucking his legs more firmly
underneath him and shifting slightly to make himself more comfortable,
Roland burped up some cud and began chewing contentedly.
you all right,
son?" Josiah's soft baritone broke the spell.
All hell broke loose as clients - drunk
or otherwise - exited the Standish Tavern in record time, and in less
than a minute the room was disturbingly empty. Apart, that is, from
three flabbergasted regulators and one very content bull.
But Josiah had no time to worry about
that. He was concerned about Ezra.
Standish's face was bone-white, the
skin stretched taut, eyes wide with horror.
Now Josiah was really worried. Ezra
was completely at a loss for words. This was serious.
Larabee's voice echoed around the room
as a black-clad figure appeared in the wrecked doorway and the remainder
of one of the bat-wing doors finally collapsed and crunched the gunslinger's
JD scooted past Chris as the gunman
hopped painfully around cursing succinctly, JD sure that he was hearing
a few interesting epithets even Buck didn't know.
"Oh my Lord
" JD's eyes
widened in shock.
Utter devastation greeted the young
sheriff. The interior was liberally littered with wrecked wood and shards
of tables, and the smell of spilled whiskey and stale beer floated aromatically
through the dust-filled atmosphere. Broken glasses gleaming dully in
the winking light of Ezra's new chandelier, the one he had had sent
from New Orleans only two weeks before. Unfortunately, the rope holding
the cut-glass chandelier was tied to a ring set beside the doorway,
and as the remains of the bat-wing door bounced off Chris' foot the
resulting weakening of that particular board brought an ominous creaking
from the ceiling.
Without warning the board was wrenched
from the saloon's wall by the weight of the chandelier as it plummeted
downwards to crash and shatter in a million diamond-bright pieces on
the ruined floor, followed by a large section of the ceiling plaster.
The noise make Roland blink.
He paused in his chewing for a moment
and swallowed, his ears flicking gently as dust and plaster peppered
his off-white hide. But as the dust settled Roland decided all was well
and burped again, slowly resuming his chewing.
Chris' cussing faded to soft, evil mutterings,
and Josiah slowly holstered his Schofield - but Ezra still pointed the
Remington at the intruder, Roland lying apparently unconcerned amid
the partially demolished saloon. Buck just stood, mouth open, cobalt
eyes wide with shock.
Now was not the time for angry outbursts,
Josiah decided. That could come later, when Nate had checked out Larabee's
battered foot and made sure Ezra wasn't sliding into permanent catatonia.
" Josiah kept
his voice low and reasonable. No answer. He tried again. "Buck
I reckon it might be a good idea to get the beast out of here,
Cobalt eyes blinked as though their
owner had awoken from a deep sleep.
the bull? Get him
out of here?"
Josiah turned at the soft voice. Ezra
was trying to thumb back the hammer on the Remington, but his hand was
shaking so much the digit couldn't get a grip.
"Ez, you can put the gun away now
"No Josiah - Ah am now going to
shoot the bull." Ezra actually sounded quite reasonable, Josiah
"You can't shoot the bull Ezra
- it's Jed Sommers' bull - he paid a lot of money for the beast - "
please remove yourself
from the line of fire. Ah am going to shoot the bull. Right now. This
minute." Ezra's accent was getting thicker by the second.
" Josiah had moved
to stand in front of the Remington, not exactly the greatest of ideas
he realised, as Ezra managed finally to cock the hammer. Roland turned
an amiable bovine visage to gaze benignly at the incensed southerner.
Buck suddenly clicked into reality.
Ezra. Gun. Bull. Saloon. Oh God. The saloon
Sliding his revolver back into its holster
he bent down and began feverishly to untie the string looped around
Roland's horns, the big animal trying his utmost to breathe affectionately
on Buck's face.
Josiah tried again, valiantly ignoring
Larabee's curses as JD helped him hobble to the only unbroken chair
in the room.
give me the gun
"I say let him shoot the sonofabitch
" Larabee's growling tones just sent more plaster dust raining
from the ceiling. Or rather, what was left of it.
Chris Larabee, if I had the time
right now I'd kick your ass all the way to Hell and back
Josiah gritted his teeth as he tried
to keep his temper under control. Larabee sometimes had the goldarndest
knack for saying the wrong damn' thing at the wrong damn' time
It was at that moment Roland decided
to heave his not inconsiderable bulk to his feet. Now as it happened,
the lucerne hay that Yosemite had fed him earlier had been of a particularly
fine quality, and Roland's four-chambered stomach had processed it in
double-quick time. So as Roland arose he did the time-honoured thing
that cattle do when they stand up.
His back arched, his magnificently plumed
tail rose akimbo, and he groaned with relief as he dumped a richly green
and very runny pile of manure on Ezra's fine wooden floor. To finish
off, he coughed genteely, and the last few dollops were sprayed artfully
on the nearest upright objects - which in this case were a certain Ezra
P. Standish and a dumbfounded Josiah Sanchez.
Ezra suddenly looked about ready to
burst into tears.
Josiah stood, feeling a particularly
large, warm gob of green, stinking goo slide down his cheek. Now
he was pissed.
"Yeah, Ez?" The baritone voice
was calm, controlled, and to anyone who knew the big preacher, absolutely
" Ezra was
having difficulty getting the words out, partly because of shock but
mostly because he couldn't bear the idea of getting something unspeakable
in his mouth. "Ah think Ah'm comin' down with one of my Sick Headaches
" Ezra swallowed. He thought he was going to be sick.
Josiah's azure eyes turned to Buck,
who was now looking at his two shit-covered compadres with horror.
Buck Wilmington finally found his voice.
" Josiah tried
to compose himself as best he could, but it was a little difficult to
be dignified when you were covered in bull-shit. "Buck. Take the
bull away. Now. Before I turn him into beef steak with my bare hands.
And you know I can do it, too. And then
and then I may just come
after you. What I'm gonna do when I catch you I ain't figured out yet.
But it will be painful, Buck. Very, very painful. Comprende?"
"But Josiah - " Buck couldn't
understand why everyone was blaming him. It wasn't his fault
the goddamn beast had taken a shine to him!
"Not now, Buck." Josiah turned
dangerously calm, clear blue eyes to the big gunman. "Later. Much,
much later. All right?"
Buck sighed. He looked around at the
catastrophe laid out before him and winced. Lord knows what price Ezra
would exact from his hide, even though it was Jed's bull that had done
the damage. He wasn't responsible one little bit!! But that sure
as hell wouldn't stop the gambler from bleeding him dry for months.
The devastated ladies' man caught hold
of Roland's piece of string and yanked, but he didn't even really need
to lead the big animal - Roland followed on happily, still wearing the
remains of Yosemite's corral.
Josiah watched, blue eyes smouldering
like the very pits of hell, as Buck and bull exited through the hole
left by Roland's entry into the saloon, brushing past a cursing and
very sore Chris Larabee, the glare the gunman sent in Roland's direction
making no impact whatsoever.
Josiah managed to ease the Remington
from Ezra's unresisting fingers and saw the pain beginning in the green
eyes. Perhaps Ez wasn't kidding - as if Standish ever joked about such
things - and he really was coming down with one of those debilitating
headaches he suffered from on occasion, although to be fair it was usually
after one of Maude Standish's rare visits. Maude had a way of driving
Ezra nuts, that was for sure.
"JD? I think you'd better go get
Nathan. Ezra don't look too good. Oh, and while you're at it you'd better
tell him about Chris' foot. He might have broken somethin'
JD hurried out of the saloon into the
clear summer night, Larabee's detailed description of what he was going
to do to the bull and to Buck Wilmington in that order ringing in his
Josiah caught Ezra by the elbow and
thought about where he should take the gambler first - the bath-house
or his room. Ezra sure was covered with a lot of shit. For a split second
Josiah thought the situation was pretty apt. Ezra and bull-shit. Sounded
just about right.
Sighing, he guided the unresisting gambler
out of the wrecked saloon and headed towards the bath-house.
Over the next couple of days Buck Wilmington's
life became a living nightmare.
He was still trying to avoid Yosemite,
the big blacksmith uttering loud and defamatory threats against Wilmington's
life, and he had to bed the bull down behind Josiah's church. That,
however, wasn't such a good idea when the tethered Roland set up such
a racket that Josiah - now clean but still redolent with the aroma of
bovine effluvia - came charging out of the church with a large and weighty
piece of timber clutched in big hands. Josiah explained to a sputtering
Wilmington that the bull would go a long way to feeding the Seminole
village for a considerable length of time - the meat, of course, wind-dried
into jerky - and if he didn't remove said bull pronto, Buck would
be hanging next to the dismembered Roland, also in suitably-sized and
Buck moved the bull.
His rendezvous with Miss Blossom also
ended in unmitigated disaster. He had managed to tie Roland to the hitching
post and kept him occupied with an armful of fodder he had wangled from
JD, who in turn had finagled it out from under Yosemite's nose. JD's
price for this piece of petty thievery was a promise from Buck to pay
for his next six issues of Saturday Night Magazine, a notoriously
risqué publication that had JD taking far more cold baths than
were good for him.
Unfortunately for Buck, Roland's consumption
of fodder was far speedier than Buck's courtin' methods, and he had
only managed to strip down to his red Empire combinations when Roland
finished his last mouthful of feed, and his dim brain suddenly realised
that the Adored One was once more absent without leave.
The noise was deafening, and did Buck's
relationship with the succulent and very willing Miss Blossom no good
at all. She informed Buck in no uncertain terms that his nights ensconced
within her comfortable and warm feather bed were numbered if he didn't
do something about the bull.
Things went from bad to worse when Buck
realised that if he strayed more than five feet in any given direction
from Roland the beast dissolved into mournful squeaky bellows, the animal
bawling monotonously until Buck appeared and swore at him.
Unfortunately the cussin' made the respectable
ladies of Four Corners put in an official complaint to JD, who had to
take Buck to task on the matter. This was done outside the jail as Buck
couldn't leave Roland to go inside. Mary Travis stood indignantly behind
Chris, who sat outside glaring at his best and oldest friend with his
foot - bandaged and swollen - propped on the chair beside him. Mary's
presence was requested by JD, as she had told JD that if Buck didn't
stop cussin' in front of the gang of children that followed Buck and
Roland about just to hear what the big gunman would say next, then she
would do her damndest to make sure JD was never elected sheriff again.
Roland just watched Buck, curious as to why these strange humans spent
a lot of time yelling at one another.
After two days of living hell, Buck
sat down in front of what was left of the saloon and sighed in misery.
Roland was happily lying down in front of the hitching rail, his Buck-sensor
in full search mode. Checking that Buck was within range he burped up
cud and relaxed. He was eating regularly, he had companionship, and
the Adored One spoke to him constantly - albeit rather loudly - and
he garnered plenty of attention from the small persons of Four Corners.
Yes indeed, life was good.
Buck sighed again. Well, at least there
was one good thing about having a bull as a friend. The children of
Four Corners adored Roland. Once they had got over their amazement at
his sheer bulk and the natural nervousness that accompanied being around
a one-ton bull, they realised that Roland was extremely even-tempered.
By the evening of the first day of Buck being afflicted with Roland,
they had discovered that the big bovine loved attention.
In fact, once the matrons of the town
had realised that their children were in absolutely no danger whatsoever
of being squashed, gored or otherwise damaged by the beast, they discovered
that they were actually onto a Good Thing. They knew exactly where their
offspring were, they had a peace officer in constant attendance, and
they had a built-in garbage disposal service for all things vegetarian
in the shape of one Zebu bull.
Not only that, Roland was exceptionally
amenable, and children from toddlers to teenagers could clamber over
his huge frame in total safety. He never seemed to mind having his ears
pulled, his tail teased or having small bodies scrambling over his broad
back as he lay happily in the dust, jaw moving rhythmically as he chewed,
eyes half closed with pleasure at all of the attention. Nothing seemed
to faze him. Indeed, several of the more mischievous members of the
little pack that swarmed around the beast let off a few firecrackers
near him and all Roland did was blink in surprise. The offenders were
swiftly apprehended and duly had their backsides paddled by their furious
But, Buck decided, things couldn't continue
the way they were. Nobody but the children ever spoke to him, he couldn't
go into the saloon for a drink to drown his woes as Ezra - speaking
from his sick-bed - had banned him, Inez wouldn't feed him because he
had upset Ezra, and when he swallowed his pride and went to unburden
his woes to Josiah the big preacher made him stand outside the church
and discuss it, as Roland would have been more than happy to lumber
his way up the steps into the church and support Buck in his hour of
Dammit, thought Buck. If Jed Sommers
couldn't come and get the sonofabitch, then he, Buck Wilmington, would
take the damn bull to Jed.
The decision made, Buck went to saddle
his horse. Roland heaved himself to his feet, shedding children like
lice as he amiably waited for them all to get out of the way, and happily
followed the Adored One down the street.