DISCLAIMER: The following is an original work of fan fiction based on the television series "The Magnificent Seven". No infringement upon the copyrights held by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, The Mirisch Corp. or any others involved with that production is intended. No profit is being made - enjoy!!

This story takes place around 48 hours after Ezra had that piece of pie with Mary and Mrs. Potter at the end of Errant Deeds.

Another Day, Another Dollar
Part One

Eleanor Tremayne, Ezquire

Vin Tanner took a sip of cold coffee, enjoying the spectacle of the black horizon smudging into dark blue from the comfort of his wagon. Shifting against the willow rods of his lazy-back, he turned his attention to the Main Street of Four Corners. The town wasn’t yet showing signs of waking at this early hour, and even the saloon was quiet for a change. Only two horses were tethered in front of it, both of the bored mounts no doubt waiting for their owners to sober up enough to ride them home.

Finishing the coffee with a final chug, he hung the tin cup from its peg on the wall of his Conestoga. Stretching leisurely, he scratched his bare chest before kicking his painted buffalo robe off his bare legs. Another scratch and an adjustment or two later, he reflected that taking the chance of washing his trousers the night before had been a gamble that had paid off. A man was meant to sleep as he’d been born, without anything to fetter him as he lay but ties of the heart. Since he was fresh out of sweethearts, he’d slept easy and deep for the first time in a long, long while.

Time to go to work,’ he thought to himself, grabbing his braces from where he had hooked them over a leg of the backrest’s supporting tripod when he’d gone to bed. He was looking forward to the day with an anticipation that had been lacking the week before, when "going to work" had meant wearing an apron and pushing a broom.

Yawning, Vin touched the rifle with the crooked sight that had been Marcus Potter’s[i] gift to the drifter he’d taken in. Potter hadn’t allowed the mare’s leg in the store, so he’d had to improvise when the mob had decided to hang Nathan.… The kind, sturdy shopkeeper would be dead a week come tomorrow, and Vin missed him. He’d visit Mrs. Potter today, thank her again for the portable soup and hard sausage in his chuck box, and put the thought in her head that he would be here for the next month. He had a hunch that if he did it right, she’d let him know when she needed a man around, and he’d be dining on pie like a rich man.

Five minutes later, booted and spurred and with a bacon-filled biscuit in his hand, Tanner stood outside the saloon, waiting for Ezra Standish. He shifted his hips, using his free hand on his waistband to tug and shake his trousers out. They were still a trifle damp, nothing more than a light dew would leave, but it made the heavy cotton stick and cling in damn inconvenient places.

He wasn’t long waiting; a few moments after his arrival, the bat wing doors parted at the touch of a red-jacketed shoulder and Ezra came down the steps of the porch counting a stack of money and grinning like a happy coyote.

“Find some fat rabbits t’skin?” Vin asked him through a mouthful of his breakfast.

“The wolves have prey’d[ii],” Ezra agreed, gesturing toward the threat of daybreak with fists full of greenbacks. “And look, the gentle day before the wheels of Phoebus round about, dapples the drowsy east with spots of gray-vy,” he finished, raising an eyebrow at Vin flicking some crumbs from the indifferent hide of his capote.

Tanner flicked the last crumb on his coat at Ezra in a companionable sort of way. “You start any fights?” he asked amiably.

“I nevah start fights, Mistah Tanner,” Standish replied with an epic, smug innocence. “Ah am always a gentleman when Dame Fortune sees fit to bestow her affection upon another.”

“Thought you didn’t gamble.”

Ah don’t.” Ezra resumed his rapid, silent counting, nimble fingers straightening and organizing the bills by denomination as he did so. “Nor do I waste mah time courtin’ fickle women. The owners of those two nags are sleepin’ it off in the jail.” His gold tooth flashed as he grinned, his tongue briefly dancing along his lower lip. “I’d have let them off with a fine, but they were sadly unable t’pay it after the evenin’s wagerin’.”

Vin laughed, shaking his head. This next month was going to be one hell of a ride!

Standish finished his bookkeeping, splitting the money into several smaller stacks that he quickly and efficiently stashed away in different places on his person.

“Otherwise it was a quiet night,” Ezra continued with a frown, suddenly serious. Vin resisted the urge to shake his head like a wet dog at the swiftness of the change: Talking to Standish was like playing with quicksilver.

“As a number of the saloon’s patrons were men I remember seein’ at the James’ hacienda, I suspect it might turn into a noisy day.”

Vin grunted. “Were they drinkin’?”

“Not nearly enough t’be convincin’, Mister Tanner.”

“Where’re they now?”

“They left town just after 2:30 this mornin’, givin’ every impression of ridin’ home,” Ezra told him, politely covering a yawn with his left hand, the ruby in the ring it sported dull in the grayness.

“They coulda just been gettin’ the lay of the land,” Vin mused.

“Perhaps. But I for one trust Stewart James about as far as a dead chigger can spit.”

Tanner grinned. “I’ll keep my eyes open.”

“As I shall shut mine. Good night, Mister Tanner.”

“Gonna miss the sunrise,” Vin pointed out.

“Only if I hurry,” Standish replied with an exaggerated shudder.

“Night, Ezra.”

Touching his fingers to the curled brim of his hat, Ezra loped up the saloon stairs, disappearing into the smoky darkness behind its swinging doors.

Taking the last bite of his breakfast, Vin settled into one of the chairs that graced the saloon’s porch and surveyed the settled dust that was Main Street before dawn in this bugscuffle he was being paid the lordly sum of a dollar a day to look after.

The sun was in evidence if not immanence when Chris Larabee came out of the boarding house, his hat slouched low over his face and a cup of steaming Rio in each hand. He didn’t look like he was wearing the morning particularly well.

“Mornin’, Cowboy,” Vin greeted him, smiling as he relieved Larabee of the burden of one of the hot metal cups. Chris grunted in reply, sprawling into the chair next to Tanner as he shook the sting of the heat out of his free hand.

“Ezra’s pretty sure some of the boys he saw at the James’ place are lookin’ t’start some kinda trouble,” Vin told him. “He thinks there’s a chance of it gettin’ a little lively around here today.”

Chris grunted again, the brim of his hat sinking down past his chin as he took a long pull at his coffee. Vin was patient, waiting for Larabee to surface before adding, “Said they left town a couple hours before dawn, headin’ in the direction of home.”

Sighing, Chris plonked the empty mug down on the boards under the chair, readjusted his hat, hauled himself onto his feet with a growl, and hobbled into the saloon.

Grinning, Vin imagined the kind of conversation that was about to take place between an off-duty Ezra and a grumpy Chris. Odds were, he wouldn’t need to imagine it long: The saloon walls were pretty thin, and Ezra kept his window open.

He was licking crumbs from his fingers when the deep bark of Ezra’s .38 caliber Remington upset the morning calm and Vin’s cup of coffee, by virtue of catapulting Tanner out of his chair and into the saloon, a picture of the carnage awaiting him clear in his imagination.

He was halfway up the stairs to Ezra’s room on the second floor when a wide-awake, very much alive Chris appeared on the landing, the string of his hat tight against his throat. His stride was unhurried as he came down the steps, passing Vin on the way without a word.

Casting a glance up to the second floor, Tanner momentarily debated the wisdom of checking on Ezra, but the only shot fired had come from Standish so he decided to join the party he knew would be gathering outside.

JD stood on the street in front of the porch, blinking sleepily at Chris in the brightening light of day, holding his trousers up with one hand and his gunbelt in the other. Buck was beside him, one hand on the kid’s shoulder to rein him in, the other occupied with a Colt. Wilmington’s red flannel union suit was even baggier than Vin remembered, and one of the prettier soiled doves in town was endeavoring to button their back-flap with commendable concentration, given the relative chill of the morning and her state of undress.

Josiah was closing in on the saloon fast, his trousers not quite buttoned properly but his braces were over his shoulders and his rifle ready in his hands. Nathan was striding from the clinic in trousers held up by his gunbelt and he too carried a rifle.

The good citizens of the town were appearing at their windows, and Mary Travis came to stand in front of her door wearing morning cap and wrapper, peering groggily at the muster going on across the street from her office. Vin tipped his hat to her, then turned and looked expectantly at Chris.

Taking their cue from Tanner, everyone else did the same. After a few moments of silence, Buck prompted: “What the hell was Ezra shootin’ at?!”

While Chris considered the best way to answer that question, Vin took a good look at the hat hanging down the back of Larabee’s duster. Grinning, he grabbed it from its resting place and shoved it on top of the older man’s head, at an angle where the bullet hole that had chunked a bite out of the edge of its flat crown could be plainly seen.

“Go in low,” Chris advised his gaping audience as he adjusted his hat. “You’ll be all right if you go in low, because the first shot is high.”

“What about the second one?” Buck demanded, equal parts nonplussed and delighted.

“Second shot, he’s awake - and aimin’.”

“But - I didn’t hear a second shot…” J.D. said, worried that he’d missed something obvious.

“Ezra didn’t think he needed to wake up,” Chris told him, sitting back down in his chair.

“He ain’t the only one,” Buck complained, yawning hugely and stretching his arms out in such a way that his left arm came down around the bare shoulders of his companion. Giggling, she gave his tummy a possessive little pat.

Smirking, Chris caught Buck’s gaze with his own. When he was sure he had Wilmington’s attention, he lowered his gaze about three feet and raised an eyebrow. The morning’s gunplay might have pulled Wilmington from his bed, but it certainly hadn’t interrupted his sleep.

Buck combined a smirk with a sheepish grin and shifted his pillow friend from his side to his front. She didn’t seem to mind the change, adding a wiggle to her giggle that made Buck’s mustache momentarily twitch up into his nose.

“Mr. Larabee?”

Chris sat up a little straighter in his chair at the sound of Mary Travis’s sleepy voice. She had crossed the street to stand beside Nathan, Mrs. Potter behind her with her arms around her two children. All of them wore their nightclothes, and all of them were barefoot.

“Mrs. Travis?” he replied warily.

“Was there trouble?” she asked.

“Just a - misunderstanding,” he answered, pressing his lips together in a thin white line.

“Oh.” She looked at the saloon doors, then back at him and at the hole in his hat. “Is - Mr. Standish all right? Josh - thought that shot sounded like his gun?”

Chris blinked. “Josh?”

The boy under Mrs. Potter’s arm squared his thin shoulders, raising his chin and his hand at the same time.

Buck chuckled, turning it into a cough when Larabee turned an angry glare on him. Little boys and Chris didn’t mix well these days, and evidently neither did he and Mary Travis, at least not at this hour of the morning, especially not when you could see her pretty little toes peeking out from underneath the lace decorating her hem. Chris had always had a thing for naked feet on a woman….

“Mr. Standish is fine, ma’am,” Vin said, thinking Chris’s rope needed some slack. After all, the man still hadn’t had his second cup of coffee.

“Ezra been botherin’ you, Missus Potter?” Nathan asked.

“Not at all, Mr. Jackson,” the Widow Potter replied serenely, giving her children a reassuring squeeze.

“Well, if the excitement’s over -” Buck began, only to be interrupted by an eye-crossing bounce from his lady companion. Clearing his throat, he amended, “If the excitement’s over out here, I think I’ll be headin’ back to, ah, sleep.”

Mary coughed, and Mrs. Potter bit her lip, forcibly reminded of the empty pillow beside her head.

“Hold up,” Vin said, forestalling the scattering of the small crowd gathered around him.

“What is it?” Mary asked, taking a protective step toward Mrs. Potter and her children.

Vin didn’t answer, lifting his face into the wind and breathing deeply. Frowning, Tanner left the saloon’s porch, trotting around to its side stairs. Chris followed him, staying at the foot of the stairs as the tracker climbed to the second story entrance and took another good sniff of the morning breeze.

“Damn,” Vin muttered, jumping the railing onto the incline of the roof where the second story rose into its dormer. He gave a single, sharp whistle that pierced the air before making his lop-sided way across the shingles. Stopping about a foot away from the edge, he took his brass spyglass out of his pocket and surveyed the distant horizon, turning his attention first in the direction of the James’ Ranch.

Ezra’s head popped through the open frame of the window of his room that looked out over Main Street, pushing a faded calico curtain out ahead of him. His annoyance at being awake was abundantly clear in his expression - and then he, too, was distracted by something in the air. A moment later, his body followed his head through the window frame until he stood on the roof.

Tight fit,’ Chris noticed with surprise; Ezra had almost had to fold himself in half to get his shoulders through the window.

“I thought you said he was asleep,” J.D. muttered to Chris as he joined them in the middle of the street to get a better view of the roof and its occupants. Standish was fully clothed, lacking only his hat and jacket.

“He was,” Chris grinned.

It took Standish two strides to reach Vin’s side. Tanner shook his head, marveling at the fact that Ezra had bathed, shaved, and changed clothes and boots in less time than it would take to boil a pot of coffee.

Shielding his eyes from the encroaching sun, Ezra held out a hand to Tanner for the spyglass as if it were his prerogative, and Vin found himself putting it into Ezra’s hand with an alacrity that alarmed the hell out of him.

Down on Main Street, Buck’s arms tightened around his companion as the scene on the roof made the roots of his mustache prickle. He glanced over at Larabee, and the hairs along his arm and the back of his neck joined the goose bump parade; Chris was standing straight, his hand resting on his hip instead of his gun, looking for all the world like he had the first time Buck had seen him, waiting for his lieutenant’s report.

Lowering the telescope, Ezra collapsed it between his hands and returned it to Vin with a murmur of thanks. Turning toward the tense group below him with the ease of a man standing on a dance floor, Standish told Chris, “Thunder storm - with funnels likely formin’.”

Shaking off the mental picture of Ezra adding a brisk “Sir” and salute to the end of his report, Buck turned to see how the civilians had taken the news. He was surprised and pleased to see that hysteria wasn’t imminent, and gave the women and children his best encouraging smile.

“How long?” Chris asked.

“No more’n half an hour,” Vin answered.

“What do you want us to do, Mr. Larabee?” Mary Travis asked, looking at him to take charge, to protect her and the town. Only a fool would have missed the challenge in her lovely green eyes.

Frowning, Chris looked to Wilmington to deal with the widow for him… Buck let him twist. He knew damn good and well Larabee hadn’t thought through the kind of commitment he’d made to Orrin Travis, and Buck was not about to give him an excuse for wiggling out of it.

“Mrs. Travis, rouse the town,” Ezra ordered crisply, and suddenly Chris looked like the lieutenant getting his marching orders. “Mrs. Potter, Miss Amelia, get yourselves over to the mercantile and distribute perishables and necessities for the next twenty minutes. Mr. Potter, see to it that your family has sufficient provision in its cellar.”

“Yes sir!” Josh answered for his family, leading the bolt toward the market.

“Stand fast!” Ezra barked, his voice rolling like thunder and freezing the blood in Buck’s veins.

“Let me finish, son,” Standish continued in a softer tone, thawing the paralysis that had gripped the Potters, et al. “Mister Tanner, you will be the storm watcher and keep us appraised of our time. Mr. Dunne!”

“Yes sir?!”

“See to the livery, and let those two fools in jail out. Miss Lucy?”

“Yeah, darlin’?” the woman in Buck’s arms replied, earning Ezra a black scowl from Wilmington.

“I rely upon your good sense to best arrange your ladies and organize a bucket brigade to draw sufficient supply to last the citizens and animals for at least a day.”

“You can count on me and my girls, Sugar,” Miss Lucy grinned. “Any time you like!”

“Most generous of you,” Ezra acknowledged. “Mister Larabee, arrange the men into four work teams - two to nail boards over the town windows, one to assist Mister Dunne, and one to clear the street of all debris and secure anything that cannot be moved inside.”

After a moment of silence, Ezra raised an eyebrow. “Now, Mister Potter,” he said gently.

“Josh, Amy, go to your rooms and grab the bedding,” Mrs. Potter instructed, forestalling her son’s mad dash. In the same moment, Mary gathered the skirts of her wrapper and nightgown and dashed back to the front porch of her office with a flash of delicate ankles that worried Chris more than the approaching storm. A few moments after her arrival the strident sound of a triangle kept hung by the door for emergencies pealed through the town.

Chris turned to Wilmington. “Buck, take the teams laying boards.”

“Nathan, Josiah, you’re with me,” Wilmington said, letting go of his companion and giving her a supporting pat on her rear. “Go get the girls up, darlin’.” Despite the situation, he was enjoying watching Chris forget all about his avowed disinterest in anything but his own wants in the unexpected need to match Ezra’s performance. It was always interesting watching two stallions fight it out - from outside the corral.

The street began filling with half-dressed, startled citizens, both solid and sinning, within a minute of the first alarm. They came running and shouting from every direction, all of them making for the Clarion and Mary Travis.

Satisfied that she’d gotten the town’s attention, Mary stopped battering the triangle, lowering the iron striker to her side. Its heaviness was somehow reassuring, like the feel of her 12 gauge. Raising her free hand for quiet, she opened her mouth to shout over the hubbub - but before she could say a word, silence abruptly replaced the noise. She didn’t have to look to know that Chris Larabee now stood at her side; but the smell of leather, shaving soap, clean horse, and tobacco turned her head anyway.

“Maybe got a twister blowing in,” Larabee said. “We work together, we ain’t got any call to be worried. Those of you with livestock, get ‘em over to the livery, or down in the storm cellar if you’ve got room. Tie the dog up, put the damn cat in the bread box so no one dies running out after it. Get the wagons off the street, and everything else that can blow away or through a wall or window. You’ve got twenty minutes to get everything done, and maybe another ten to get your family safe inside, away from doors and windows.”

“It won’t last long, and it could pass us by,” Mary added, “but just in case it doesn’t, ladies, we have to make sure there’s enough water and food for everyone for at least a day. We might have to dig out the wells. Bring buckets, empty crocks, jugs, and empty barrels to the well.”

“Get your children together and count heads. Good idea to tie them together,” Chris said, to Mary’s surprise. “Make the oldest responsible for keeping the string together, or tie ‘em to yourself. We ain’t got time to be running after missing young ‘uns. And I’ll shoot any fool I catch carrying anything that ain’t food, water, or kicking. The only valuable you’ve got to save is your life, and the lives of your family. Let’s move.”

Family units broke together. Some had faced a prairie storm before, others had not, but for the first time they felt like they were facing it as a community. Glancing down on the doings below him, Vin reflected that the only reason for having a town, besides the saloons, was to come together when times got hard.

Vin saw that Ezra was bossing the board and nail team on the second story of the mercantile. He’d been certain that Standish would take the saloon as his top priority, but maybe the fact that men wanting a card game would play on a sand dune whereas good cloth and his fancy bullets were in short enough supply in these four corners of the world had influenced his priorities. Or maybe he just had a soft spot for widows and orphans….

Grinning, Tanner turned back toward the storm. The out-riding winds were picking up, bringing heavy air laced with stinging sand. He tipped his hat off his head, letting it hang down his back by its stampede string before the wind tried to snatch it away.

Looking down, he saw Chris looking up at him. He saw Larabee’s mouth move, but a roaring, wet gust carried his words away.

“Best hurry,” Vin yelled down at him.

End Part One
of Two Parts

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[i] Yes, it was Virgil Watson in Ghosts Of The Confederacy, but I have gone with the Potters in my continuity, so Virgil Watson was really Marcus Potter.
[ii] The wolves have prey’d: and look, the gentle day, / Before the wheels of Phoebus, round about / Dapples the drowsy east with spots of gray. Much Ado About Nothing Act V, Scene 3